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Cambodian media under threat: report

A man reads the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh on its last day of publication after the paper was forced to close over a massive purported tax bill. AFP
A man reads the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh on its last day of publication after the paper was forced to close over a massive purported tax bill. AFP

Cambodian media under threat: report

Media outlets in Cambodia have come under increasing threat over the past year, according to a new report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), though the Ministry of Information, responding to a similar recent report, has insisted freedom of expression and the press is guaranteed in the Kingdom.

In its report, titled Cambodia’s Media on Edge and published on Friday, IFJ Asia-Pacific argues that Cambodia’s government has “politicized the country’s courts, restricted freedom of speech, assembly and association, and uses violence and imprisonment to suppress its political opposition, civil society and media”.

The report highlights recent developments like the shuttering of English-language newspaper Cambodia Daily, the closure of Radio Free Asia, the case of the so-called “Adhoc 5” and the forced dissolution of the country’s only viable opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and the imprisonment of its leader Kem Sokha.

The report also illustrates the pressure on reporters in Cambodia by anonymously quoting several local journalists. For example, one journalist is quoted as saying that “It’s very difficult for independent journalists to report on what we call ‘sensitive issues’ like politics, logging or corruption. We now worry if we are seen to be critical of the government or its minister that there will be serious repercussions. All [Cambodian] journalists are under threat.”

A foreign journalist “working at a pro-government news outlet” indicated editorial pressure in an interview with IFJ. “[Editorial independence] has started to disappear, while editorial interference has increased the closer we get to the election.

We’ll put the paper to bed in the evening and in the morning we’ll see that stories have changed – opinion inserted into a news story . . . and the balance taken out,” they said.

Speaking of the closure of Radio Free Asia – which decided to halt its in-country operations after more than a dozen frequencies carrying its content were shuttered – reporters also mention the loss of jobs.

“I’ve been a journalist for nearly two decades and this is the [worst] it’s been for a long time. Journalists who worked for the closed outlets are being denied press cards, some have been brought in for questioning . . . this makes it hard to work without self-censoring. If we can’t work how can we look after our families?”

The reports’ findings were similar to those of a survey released last week by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), which found Cambodia’s free press to be in a state of “collapse”. Responding on Friday, the Ministry of Information rejected the CCIM report, calling it a “baseless evaluation”.

The survey, they write, was “conducted on a handful of extremist journalists, with ill intentions to escape legal responsibilities, and put the blame on the Royal Government of Cambodia”.

The statement maintains that freedom of expression is guaranteed in Cambodia and had “brought rapid improvement to all types of media outlets: print, broadcast, and online”.

Representatives of the Information Ministry and CCIM could not be reached yesterday.

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