Reporters Without Border’s Journalist Press Freedom Index 2018 said Cambodia’s closer ties with China and an increasing fall-out with the West has led to mounting press restrictions, and ranked the Kingdom one spot down to 143 out of 180 nations. However, in an interview with Khmer Times, Huy Vannak, president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia, says while press freedom in Cambodia is limited, it is not a critical issue.
KT: Many groups say press freedom in Cambodia has declined or is restricted. How can the country improve that?
Mr Vannak: There is not a single answer to the question regarding press freedom in Cambodia. We need everyone’s answer. When we discuss freedom, we cannot avoid the topics of culture and history. In the meantime, you have to prioritise peace before freedom. Because without peace, there is no freedom or harmony. Was there a journalist working freely in the genocidal regime? Was there such a one during a storm of conflict or war? No. We have to consider cultural and historical characteristics. Freedom, meanwhile, starts from the context of a society. Our people’s understanding of affairs is still limited. Some reporters misuse their freedom, which does not answer to their responsibilities and laws. We are not too worried that there is a lack of freedom for the press, our serious concern is the quality of news that we all need to improve constantly. To sum up, two issues are involved: our journalists’ skill and professionalism, and our social context. It is hard to compare Cambodia, a developing country, to the countries in the developed world.
KT: What do journalists in a democratic country need?
Mr Vannak: Journalists, who are very important in a democratic world, need three things: freedom, freedom and freedom! The journalists must have the freedom to observe, speak and ask. The best decision comes from its basis on true and accurate information. That’s why our leaders have been calling for the press to function as a mirror for them to reflect and make the right decision.
KT: On the international stage, how does the media describe Cambodia?
Mr Vannak: I noticed that only bad political news draws the world’s attention. But bad political and geopolitical news attack Cambodia. Those who write such news want to gain benefit. Meanwhile, reports on economic, international cooperation, cultural and tourist aspects have significantly changed, because Cambodia has improved them. Our journalists have to work even harder to disseminate information about our country’s potential and our young people. In addition, we are in need of partnerships to make Cambodia the land of opportunities.
KT: Is it the duty of the UJFC to ‘clear up’ media reports that speak ill of Cambodia?
Mr Vannak: That’s true. So far, we have reacted to CNN’s and ABC’s reports on human trafficking. They used Vietnamese women to represent Cambodian women, which harm the reputation of our women. We welcome true, accurate and constructive reporting, yet if the report is falsified, that is a no. We [UJFC] have to respond to and explain that. We acknowledge that the ‘microphone outside’ is very big.