RFA con­firms of­fice clo­sure

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - Ananth Baliga and Mech Dara

RA­DIO Free Asia yes­ter­day con­firmed that all its staffers in Cam­bo­dia would see their con­tracts ex­pire at the end of the month and its op­er­a­tions would only con­tinue out­side the coun­try, de­spite a few re­porters say­ing that they would con­tinue to work for the broad­caster af­ter the shut­ting down of its Phnom Penh bu­reau.

The ra­dio broad­caster on Tues­day an­nounced that it will cease its op­er­a­tions in the King­dom fol­low­ing at­tempts to re­solve a tax com­pli­ance is­sue and a li­cens­ing dis­pute with the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion. The US-funded RFA said it would con­tinue to op­er­ate out of Wash­ing­ton, DC.

The King­dom is cur­rently in the throes of a wide-rang­ing clam­p­down on in­de­pen­dent me­dia, with the of­ten crit­i­cal Cam­bo­dia Daily news­pa­per pub­lish­ing its fi­nal edi­tion on Septem­ber 4 af­ter a month-long dis­pute with the govern­ment over a pur­ported $6.3 mil­lion tax bill. The clo­sure fol­lowed the shut­ter­ing of more than 30 ra­dio fre­quen­cies across the coun­try, dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect­ing RFA, Voice of Amer­ica and Voice of Democ­racy broad­casts.

Ro­hit Ma­ha­jan, spokesman for RFA in the US, re­it­er­ated yes­ter­day that the bu­reau would be closed and in-coun­try re­port­ing stopped, mean­ing that con­tracts for staffers would ex­pire at the end of the month and would not be re­newed af­ter that.

“We are not re­new­ing any con­tracts. RFA is go­ing to con­tinue cov­er­ing Cam­bo­dia us­ing net­works of trusted sources inside the coun­try that we have built over the 20 years we had a pres­ence there,” he said.

This meant the broad­caster would adopt a model fol­lowed in “other closed so­ci­eties, like Laos”, where news was re- ported de­spite hav­ing no lo­cal re­porters, he added.

How­ever, an RFA staffer, who re­quested anonymity, said de­spite the clo­sure of the bu­reau, he in­tended to con­tinue to re­port from home for the broad­caster.

“We have a com­mit­ment to con­tinue to the work for what we con­sider as a ben­e­fit for lis­ten­ers, and we con­tinue to work pro­fes­sion­ally,” he said.

A sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment was con­veyed by an­other RFA re­porter.

While the Min­istry of Fi­nance had sug­gested ac­tion against both RFA and VOA for tax and li­cens­ing is­sues, In­for­ma­tion Min- istry spokesman Ouk Kim­seng said that RFA Bu­reau Chief Chi Vita had ap­proached the min­istry in 2016 to for­malise the broad­caster’s op­er­a­tions, but did not fol­low up.

“He did not im­ple­ment [the pro­ce­dures] and now they ac­cuse the min­istry,” he said. “When they do not re­spect the law, there is no tol­er­ance.”

VOA said it would con­tinue its cov­er­age of the coun­try, mostly through short- and medium-wave trans­mis­sions and their web­site.

“We con­tinue to work on the ques­tion of tax li­a­bil­i­ties and reg­is­tra­tion in Cam­bo­dia,” said VOA Pub­lic Re­la­tions Of­fi­cer Michelle Har­ris.

HONG MENEA

A woman reads Cam­bo­dian news on Ra­dio Free Asia’s web­site on her smart­phone. The US-funded broad­caster is set to cease op­er­a­tions within the King­dom.

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