Viewers of local television on Sunday would have had no idea the opposition CNRP was staging a mass protest, during which violent clashes with police occurred and water cannons and tear gas were used.
Instead, anyone tuned into state-owned TVK or the pro-government broadcasters CTN, CNC, TV3, Bayon TV, Hang Meas and Apsara TV would have been fed the usual daytime-TV diet of Khmer soap operas, karaoke videos and kick-boxing matches.
This is not the first time that the nation’s TV channels have issued a media blackout on the country’s most important news items.
When CNRP president Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia in July after almost four years abroad and was met by a crowd of more than 100,000 supporters, TV stations failed to cover the event.
Bayon TV, which is owned by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter, broadcast hours of infomercials touting Khmer products; CTN focused on news reruns and boxing matches.
CNC alone briefly reported on the city’s mass deployment of armed forces and showed the demonstrators walking along Sisowath Quay, before moving on to international news.
At about 4 p.m. clashes broke out along Sisowath Quay near Wat Ounalom, with police firing tear gas and water cannons into the crowd.
Yet Apsara TV was right then broadcasting an interview with a fire-eater and Hang Meas was playing a music video by a Khmer boy band.
Kem Gunawadh, director-general of TVK—which showed dayold news and Khmer soap operas during the afternoon—defended his station’s lack of news, and said he had deployed teams throughout the city to cover the events.
“The event has not ended so we cannot follow it [immediately with a news broadcast],” Mr. Gunawadh said.
Later, at 8 p.m., TVK broadcast an interview with municipal police chief Chhuon Sovann after clashes had occurred.
Mr. Sovann’s main point to TVK was that the protesters had not stayed at Freedom Park, as the authorities had instructed them, and had wandered down the riverside to cause trouble.
“The police duty is to maintain security for the people,” Mr. Sovann said in his interview with Mr. Gunawadh. “The people will see the real situation with their own eyes of what is happening.”
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