The U.N.-funded television program “Equity Weekly,” whose stated aim is to promote good governance through short investigative journalism pieces broadcast on state-run TVK, was suspended last month, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) said.
The suspension of the popular show followed criticism from the government over the content of a recent feature on economic land concessions.
“It was a joint decision between the Ministry of Information and UNDP to temporarily suspend the ‘Equity Weekly’ show,” a spokesperson from the UNDP said in an email. “Several stories elicited strong reactions from the government and the general public.”
The UNDP did not say which stories in particular had spurred strong reaction from the government. The UNDP spokesperson said U.N. officials will be meeting with TVK soon to discuss the future of the program, funding for which will continue.
Broadcast for about 40 minutes every Sunday evening since 2007, “Equity Weekly’s” uncensored content is more hard-hitting by far than TVK’s closely vetted news content.
In their final broadcast, the host of “Equity Weekly,” Khem Vuthy, spent 25 minutes apologizing for a report made on September 30, which discussed the positive and negative effects of 50,000 hectares of economic land concessions shared by at least six private companies in the Virachey National Park in Ratanakkiri province.
“We would like to start the show with a correction. On our show aired on September 30, during our story about the alleged land concessions in the [Virachey] National Park, we failed to notify the viewers on the screen that some of the video used was archive footage from a different location,” Mr. Vuthy said.
“This was an unintentional error from our part and we apologize to all our viewers for the misunderstanding and confusion that this may have caused.”
Conservationists and human rights groups have strongly criticized the recent surge in land concessions in Ratanakkiri and elsewhere, saying that some plantations cut deep into Cambodia’s remaining pristine forests, while they also affect local farmland and the forest-based livelihoods of indigenous people.
During the last episode of the show on November 11, the host also announced that the Ministry of Information had sent TVK a five-page letter with a complaint from the Ministry of Environment over the Virachey National Park land concessions program.
“[It’s] an appropriate time to review [‘Equity Weekly’] and try to set new objectives to adapt to the fast changing media landscape in Cambodia. The UNDP has suggested to have a joint review taskforce between UNDP and TVK teams to review the production process and explore the best possible ways to move forward,” the UNDP spokesperson added.
A source working for the TV show, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding the show’s suspension, said that the contract between The UNDP and TVK to produce “Equity Weekly” programs runs until April 2013 and that staff will continue getting paid until then.
TVK Director-General Kem Gunawadh said that he had no knowledge of the matter.
“I did not hear about it yet because I received no information from [the] Ministry of Information,” he said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be contacted for comment.
Ouy Bounmy, a senior producer for “Equity Weekly,” said the decision to cut the program had been made due to a scheduled break during the Asean Summit last month, as well as financial problems. He also said the suspension would only be temporary.
“[The suspension] is about funding shortage and we will resume in the next two weeks.”
Brian Lund, director of Oxfam America’s East Asia regional office, which is part of Oxfam International and also funds “Equity Weekly” alongside the UNDP, said he did not want to comment on the programming controversy.
“We are still supporting ‘Equity [Weekly]’ until April next year and probably beyond that because it is a valuable platform,” Mr. Lund said.