Two local media organisations are demanding an apology from the leader of the Khmer Rise Party over criticism made during a meet between journalists and Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday.
KRP honourary president Prum Piseth came under fire after his Facebook account posted that Mr Hun Sen was angry with 5,000 members of the press that attended the meeting.
“Samdech Hun Sen was mad because the media did not know how to retaliate against the United States,” Mr Piseth said. “How can they do it, when they don’t have the ability to? They are just making newspapers to be used to wrap fried bananas. Funny.”
Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, yesterday said Mr Hun Sen told journalists during the meet that they should have the capabilities to track, research and analyse international events, such as the US withdrawal from Syria, in order to present the news to the public.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen told all journalists who attended that they should have global insight. He urged journalists to report the facts and fight against fake news.” Mr Bona said. “Mr Piseth embroidered the statement and looked down on journalists.”
Mr Bona added that Mr Piseth’s statement caused a serious dishonour to Cambodian journalists who have worked hard to develop their capacity building in order to serve the greater public.
“He [Piseth] could instead provide constructive criticism if he noticed a mistake or lack of professionalism,” Mr Bona said. “Yet his words were clearly an insult that was aimed to upset professional journalists.”
Huy Vannak, president of the Union of Journalist Federation of Cambodia, also shot back at Mr Piseth by calling him an “ignorant politician” for attacking the media.
“There weren’t just journalists there, but also government officials,” Mr Vannak said. “The way Mr Piseth looked down on journalists reflected another side of him – the side that had no idea about the role of the media.”
Both Mr Bona and Mr Vannak are demanding that the KRP issue a public apology in order for the party to repair the damage.
Reached yesterday, Mr Piseth said the post was a mistake made by someone who was handling his Facebook account, noting that he never wanted to insult Cambodian journalists.
“It was a status post made by one of my supporters who used that account with my name and picture,” he said. “I know who they are and I’ve already told them to stop.”
“I regret what happened,” Mr Piseth added. “It’s just something I could not control.”
KRP president Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung yesterday also issued a statement after social media backlash by Cambodian journalists over the weekend.
Mr Vathana Sabung responded by saying that “bad people” have created fake accounts to attack his party.
Vann Sokunthea, a reporter for Radio France International, yesterday said that he requested the party to be responsible for the criticism.
“Whether the account was hacked or intentional, I think that insulting someone is not something normal people would do,” Mr Sokunthea said. “I hope that he would re-consider before making this mistake twice.”
Although KRP’s leadership has claimed innocence in the matter, Cambodian journalists on social media have noted that Mr Sabung, who is new to the political arena, had in the past used inappropriate language and committed violence against his family.
During the meet on Friday, Mr Hun Sen urged all journalists to fight against the spread of false information, noting that social media is rife with fake news.
He added that the most effective way to combat fake news is to publish facts in a timely manner. Mr Hun Sen also said that journalists should be professional by avoiding news that misleads, incites and insults.
He noted that the government is now drafting an anti-cybercrime and fake news law in order to address challenges regarding the spread of false information.
Mr Hun Sen also told the Information Ministry to wrap up the draft on the Access to Information Law and possibly make amendments to the 1995 Press Law.
“Countries that promote freedom of expression also raised concerns regarding cybercrime and fake news,” he said. “So I request all relevant government officials to speed up the discussion on this issue.”
Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng yesterday said that the ministry is currently on the verge of finalising the Access to Information Law, noting that an amendment to the Press Law has yet to be requested.