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Information Law a Step Closer

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Information Minister Khieu Kanharith spoke yesterday at the World Press Freedom Day celebration. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The information minister announced yesterday that the government is one step closer to establishing an access to information law, in response to demands for a more transparent and responsive government.
Minister Khieu Kanharith made the comments during the World Press Freedom Day celebration, which was held under the theme of “Access of Information is Your Right.” He said the government has been collaborating with UNESCO agencies and civil society groups to set up the law, with support from the Swedish government. The law focusses on the right to receive and impart information to the public.  
“We have drafted this law already at the Information Ministry, but we now need comments from the public and from any civil society organizations, journalists, UNSECO representatives and the UN Human Rights office to Cambodia to ensure it is transparent and acceptable,” he said.
“We have the right to obtain information if this law comes into effect and it will also punish any officials if they do not respond to a request from the public without a proper reason.”
Progress with the law has been slow as it was first proposed 10 years ago. However, in January the ministry launched a governmental freedom of information website, urging the public to make suggestions to the draft.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia welcomes the public to participate in the process of drafting the Access to Information Law by making comments on the draft,” the website states.
UNESCO representative in Cambodia Anne Lemaistre welcomed the move, saying the future access to information law is a fundamental human right for all Cambodian citizens and will help strengthen the government by supporting its effort to be more open and responsive to the public.
“It increases trust between the government and its people,” she said.
“Additionally, journalists who can access official information can work in a safe environment as they do not have to base their reporting on speculation or rumor, which ultimately leaves them vulnerable to confrontation or legal and physical attacks.”
The Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index ranked Cambodia 128 out of 180 countries for press freedom, 11 places higher than in the 2015 index and above regional neighbors such as Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
Although Ms. Lemaistre said the results were a positive step for press freedom, more work was needed to improve transparency and safety for journalist reporting on touchy subjects like deforestation and corruption.
“Although this is a great improvement, much work needs to be done in terms of protecting journalists covering sensitive issues related to the environment and natural resources, governance and corruption,” she said.
The International Federation of Journalists and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network marked World Press Freedom Day by releasing The Road to Resilience: Press Freedom in South Asia 2015-16, which tallied 31 journalists, bloggers and media workers killed between May 2015 and April 2016, with India emerging as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.
Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to remain dangerous places for journalists, but the most concerning series of events were recorded in Bangladesh.
“Press freedom is not a guarantee across South Asia, and without the support and leadership of South Asia’s leaders, governments and legal apparatuses, press freedom will cease to exist,” the IFJ said.

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