Ministry Collecting Data on Foreign Media Organizations

The Information Ministry is collecting data on foreign media, including updated information on staff, ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said on Wednesday, as the Finance Ministry’s tax department defended investigations into two U.S.-funded media organizations as well as other outlets and NGOs.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an investigation into unpaid taxes by NGOs. The tax department presented The Cambodia Daily, which started as a non profit enterprise, with a $6.3 million unpaid tax bill on the same day and summoned at least three NGOs for meetings last week.

On Friday, Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth sent a letter to Information Minister Khieu Kanharith asking him to investigate the media licenses for Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) in relation to a tax investigation.

Mr. Kimseng on Wednesday confirmed remarks by Mr. Kanharith made on Tuesday that neither RFA nor VOA needed to pay taxes because they rented airtime from other stations. This was contradicted by a tax department statement released on Wednesday claiming that the two outlets were liable because they provided a service.

But Mr. Kimseng said both RFA and VOA needed to submit updated information on the local management of the U.S.-funded news broadcasters.

“We just need to see the update of their news representatives here,” he said. “Now we are doing an update about certain foreign media in Cambodia.”

This includes collecting information on the local bureau chief and reporters for foreign media such as Reuters and Xinhua, the official press agency of China.

When asked to define what he meant by “foreign,” Mr. Kimseng hung up on a reporter.

Cambodia’s Press Law requires outlets to submit any changes to their name, editor, printing house and certification of criminal record five days before the change is put into effect.

Wednesday’s tax department statement, meanwhile, reiterated that contrary to opinions circulating on media, its investigation into taxes were not centered on political targets.

Increased enforcement had brought $735 million into the government’s coffers last year and another $612 million in the first seven months of this year, it said.

RFA and VOA owed dues because they offered a taxable service, the statement said.

“Both radio broadcasters…are regarded as taxpayers and must be required [to fulfill] tax obligations according to the law even though they are broadcasting through renting hours on other radios stations,” the statement says.

Neither outlet has responded to repeated requests for comment.

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