Press freedom concerns ahead of meet

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
KT/Khem Sovannara

Hundreds of journalists will today attend an annual solidarity dinner with Prime Minister Hun Sen in a move to boost relations between the government and media.

About 4,000 journalists from newspapers, televisions, and radios, as well as government spokespersons and foreign press, are scheduled to dine with Mr Hun Sen at Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich Centre, according to Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng.

“It is good thing for journalists because we need to have good communication with public institutions and Prime Minister Hun Sen,” Mr Kimseng said. “There will be a speech by the premier related to journalists’ work. They can communicate and get to know each other.”

The forum is a good chance for journalists to meet government leaders, he added.

Vann Sokunthea, a Radio France International reporter, said that the meeting will foster good communication.

“We can meet with the country’s leader and this creates an opportunity for us to get to better know government officials,” Mr Sokunthea said. “It is also a chance for journalists to get to know each other more closely.”

“If I have chance, I will raise up challenging issues faced by journalists, especially to stop discrimination against all journalists and let them do their professional jobs,” he added. “We all see there is restriction on press freedom because of the shuttering of the Cambodia Daily and RFA, but the government has issued a statement urging those media to reopen their offices, so I think press freedom is on the mend.”

Mr Sokunthea called on all journalists to join hands and ask the court to drop charges against former RFA reporters Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin who were charged under Article 445 of the Criminal Code for undermining national defence.

Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Marady Hotel in November 2017 and were accused of sending intelligence reports to the United States, an allegation they deny.

In late August, Phnom Penh Municipal Court released them on bail after they spent about nine months in jail.

In an open letter, dozens of Cambodian journalists yesterday called on the court to drop the charges against Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin.

“We would like to express our deep concern that the charges against the two RFA journalists are very severe,” the letter said. “Despite being released on bail, they are unable to perform their work as journalists and face difficulties to make a living.”

“In a democracy, the press plays a significant role in disseminating the truth to people,” it added. “Journalists also play a key role to report objectively to the public.”

In a Cross Talk discussion organised by Khmer Times on Tuesday, Mr Chhin and Mr Sothearin said that they have encountered difficulties since being charged and placed behind bars before being granted bail.

“Although we live with our family members after we were released on bail, we do not have complete freedom – we can’t travel,” Mr Chhin said. “We are unemployed and both of our survivals depend on what is shared by our friends. I hope the court would drop the charges.”

So Sreyleak, a Town radio reporter, yesterday said the solidarity dinner is a good chance for journalists to raise up challenging issues they face.

“In my opinion, professional journalists have a chance to meet face-to-face with the Prime Minister and we can also have chats with reporters from other institutions,” Ms Sreyleak said of the meeting.

Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin speak with Khmer Times. KT/Tep Sony

“I think there is media improvement, as journalists have undertaken a lot of training and there are many schools offering training in media,” Ms Sreyleak added. “But I think that press freedom remains restricted. And some institutions are under the government’s control, so some information which affects the government is blocked.”

Nop Vy, media director with the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media, yesterday said press freedom remains restricted for independent media outlets.

“Over the past three years, the press freedom situation has been worsening because of a crackdown on independent media, the imprisoning of journalists, and threats and discrimination against independent press,” Mr Vy said, noting that Voice of Democracy has not been issued press cards by the Information Ministry since last year.Mr Vy said the government must be willing to have the press operate freely and take their criticism constructively.

In its Challenges for Independent Media 2017 report, CCIM warned that press freedom in the country collapsed in 2017.

The report, which surveyed 75 media workers from 41 institutions, said the closure of some independent radio stations and newspapers, as well as legal threats against journalists, had a chilling effect on media freedom in 2017.

It also showed that just 11 percent of journalists thought the sector was moving in the right direction, while 83 percent said media freedom had decreased over the past year.

A further 38 percent of journalists reported that they were verbally attacked or physically assaulted carrying out their duties, 47 percent said they had been threatened in the past, and 67 percent felt they did not have the full freedom to report on all news topics.

Mr Kimseng. the Information Ministry spokesman, disagreed that press freedom is restricted.

“I cannot accept that because they look at one angle, but we see many positive points we have to be pleased with,” Mr Kimseng said.

Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said that the country’s media sector has improved.

“Traditional media outlets and online news media have improved,” Mr Bona said. “We already had free press in our country.”

“We think the solidarity dinner will foster communication for our journalists with the country’s leader, so it will create good relations in providing and getting information,” Mr Bona said.

Media lecturer Moeun Chhean Nariddh said that Cambodian media should balance between international standards and Cambodian culture and context.

“I think press freedom in Cambodia has been blocked by a cloudy sky and stormy rain because of the effects of the political situation. But, like the sky becomes clear again, press freedom is also getting better,” Mr Chhean Nariddh said. “As media professionals, we are encouraged to apply the international media standard as watchdogs of the government.”

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