The Information Ministry will today cooperate with Unesco to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in Phnom Penh under the theme of the “media’s role in supporting peace and democracy.”
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith yesterday in a statement called on journalists in the Kingdom to be ethical.
“The purpose of our celebration is to promote the freedom of expression, the press, the protection of independent media and pay respect to journalists who have lost their lives fulfilling their duty,” Mr Kanharith said.
“The government supports the media’s important role in maintaining peace, development and democracy in Cambodia,” he added. “The government considers the media an important partner in this democratic society.”
Mr Kanharith said that earlier this year, his ministry finished drafting the Law on Access to Information. He said he hopes the law will be passed by the National Assembly.
“I call on international and local journalists to fulfil your job by respecting the code of ethics, keeping dignity and developing your ability,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in the statement last night that “in order for the media to further support peace and democracy, journalists need to make an effort to develop their capacity, and criticise constructively”.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, yesterday said Cambodian journalists have done a “wonderful job” in keeping people informed of what’s going on around the world.
Mr Chhean Nariddh said local journalists will continue to enhance democracy, as well as good governance.
“I think that the government, especially the Information Ministry, has to make great effort in providing news and information to the public and journalists through many spokespersons and information officers in various government ministries and institutions,” he said. “We will continue to train journalists on professional skills. We hope government officials and the authorities will be patient and tolerate mistakes made by journalists.”
When asked about the state of press freedom in the Kingdom, Mr Chhean Nariddh said it has been “better” when compared to the past two years.
“I think the press situation in Cambodia at this present has become better after […] the closure of the Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia offices, and the dissolution of the CNRP,” he said. “All journalists can do their work without any restrictions, though some journalists exercise self-censorship when reporting on sensitive issues.”
Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodia 143 out of 180 countries in its 2019 Press Freedom Index, a drop of one ranking when compared to last year.
When asked about the Kingdom’s ranking in the index, Mr Chhean Nariddh said it’s a matter of perception.
“It’s difficult to say because you can look at the press situation in Cambodia from different angles and perspectives; it’s like saying ‘a glass is either half full or half empty’,” he said. “I neither agree, nor disagree with the report.”
However, Mr Chhean Nariddh noted that press freedom in the Kingdom still faces many challenges.
“I think the main challenge of press freedom in Cambodia is the image has been ruined by some unprofessional and unethical journalists who used their profession to commit wrongdoings like blackmailing luxury wood traders or defaming people without evidence,” he said. “This has also affected journalists.”
“There are always bad people in every profession,” Mr Chhean Nariddh added. “I hope officials and the public will distinguish bad journalists from good journalists.”
Keo Sokha, a reporter for the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia, said that since the dissolution of CNRP in 2017 and the closure of the Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia offices in Phnom Penh, it has been unsafe to be critical.
“I used to write many critical stories, but now I do not dare to do so,” Mr Sokha said, adding that he also fears for the safety of his sources. “We dare not provide voice to the former opposition party or critical civil society organisations. Sometimes, we need to protect the safety of our sources such as members of civil society and political analysts.”
In a statement yesterday, the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia said journalists should uphold “press freedom for national interests, world peace and community with a shared future”.
“UJFC would like to encourage all journalists to adhere to the values of professional journalism that serve the interests of mankind and avoid hate speech,” the statement said. “UJFC encourages local fellow journalists to uphold our national interests first.”
“Once you value your nation first, other people will follow. There is nothing wrong in promoting your own society and it does not diminish press independence,” it added.