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Cambodia accuses US-funded broadcasters of opposition bias

PHNOM PENH -- Cambodia has threatened legal action against two U.S.-funded radio stations, accusing them of favoring opposition parties and promoting U.S. foreign policy, sources said on Thursday.

Representatives of Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) were called to a closed-door meeting on Wednesday.

The government complained about their coverage of border demarcation issues with Vietnam and the Oct. 1 jailing of a broadcaster and land rights campaigner for “secessionism,” two sources who attended the meeting told Reuters.

The dressing-down comes amid criticism by rights groups of the government for leaning on the judiciary to silence the small number of critics in the country who dare to speak out.

RFA and VOA broadcast locally in the Khmer language and are among the few radio stations in Cambodia considered free of government influence.

One source said an official present at the meeting labeled the two broadcasters “rebel and opposition radios.”

“They wanted the radio stations to report more about the activities of the government and they don't want RFA to be used as a campaign for opposition parties,” the source told Reuters under the condition of anonymity.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan, who chaired the meeting, declined to give details of what took place but said the stations were urged to report responsibly.

“Free press means accuracy, no bias and with professionalism,” Phay Siphan said.

Both sources said the two stations were told to change their reporting or face unspecified legal action, adding they were accused of propagating policies of the U.S. State Department.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the meeting but appeared to back the two stations.

“In general, the United States supports freedom of expression and press, and through their reporting, VOA and RFA seek to epitomise that,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

RFA described the meeting as “a blatant attempt to discourage objective reporting on the government.”

“The Cambodian government clearly does not understand the principles of a free press or the important role of independent media if it thinks it can intimidate RFA and dictate what we can or cannot report on,” U.S.-based spokesman John Estrella said in a statement.

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