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.
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. Hong Menea

RFA confirms office closure

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 reported 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 Ministry 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.