A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Kingdom's only Cham radio show goes dark

Manekseka Sangkum: Religious, ethnic minorities: You are safe on Xamdaach's watch!


A woman walks past a mosque in the capital that has been at the centre of a development dispute. A radio program has allegedly been shut down for discussing the topic on air.
A woman walks past a mosque in the capital that has been at the centre of a development dispute. A radio program has allegedly been shut down for discussing the topic on air. Heng Chivoan

Mon, 27 June 2016 ppp
Vandy Muong and Erin Handley

Cambodia's only Cham-language radio program has been quietly shuttered, with a bitter land dispute centred on the Boeung Kak mosque identified by some as the trigger.

Radio Sap Cham, a daily hour-long radio program aimed at a Cham Muslim audience, was cancelled two weeks ago and replaced with music on the airwaves.

But the reasons for the sudden closure remain murky, with producer Sles Nazy saying he was given no notice or explanation.

“We don’t have the specific reason behind this closure; I heard it happened after there was an order from someone at the top level of the government,” Nazy said.

Kham Phon Keomony, head of 103 FM radio, said the program had been broadcast for free by the government since 2008.

“Only the government knows the reason why it was shut down this month,” he said.

But both government spokesman Phay Siphan and Ministry of Information spokesman Ouk Kimseng said they had no knowledge of the reasons behind the program’s sudden silencing.

However, Ahmad Yahya, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said the closure stemmed from a controversial segment about plans to build a road through the Boeung Kak mosque compound – an issue Yahya went on air to discuss.

That episode saw Yahya sued for defamation by Othsman Hassan, a fellow Muslim community leader and a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour.

While Yahya believes the road should not be built, to decrease noise and preserve the sanctity of regular prayer, Hassan has previously said he would like to see the area developed with high rises to benefit the Muslim community.

Yahya claims Hassan had rallied Muslim leaders at the village level to lodge a complaint about the episode to the upper levels of government, which then saw the Cham program pulled from the air.

Hassan could not be reached for comment by deadline. Yahya said as the time slot was provided free by the government, the government was free to take it away, but he would try to raise some $30,000 to pay for a new slot on commercial radio.

Producer Nazy also suspected the road dispute had caused some Muslim leaders to launch a complaint against the program, which he stressed was apolitical.

“I feel very sorry about this … The people who like to listen to our program also took to social media to express their regret,” he said.

Srip Lany from the Union of Muslim Youth said he was disappointed the Kingdom’s only Cham-language program had been cut, and said the reasons should be made public.

Cham researcher Farina So said the radio show, with its focus on culture and religion, helped preserve the Cham language and identity.

“We need to preserve the language, at the personal, family and national level,” she said. “In previous times, there was some kind of discrimination against the Cham; people didn’t know much about Cham issues. Now the radio program tries to clarify all those issues.”

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