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Cambodia’s image problem

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A Cambodian man reads the English-language newspaper Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh on September 4, 2017. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

Cambodia’s image problem

In opening remarks at a recent event, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luy David said information can be a double-edged sword.

He told a European Institute of Asian Studies (EIAS) briefing seminar that the media has unfairly presented Cambodia as a nation where one could step on landmines, become a victim of robberies, not feel safe, see pathetic and suppressed people, or receive poor quality tourism services when that is not the reality.

“Information can surely enhance better understanding, but at the same time, it can also ruin trust and confidence when it is channelled in the wrong direction and for a pre-set agenda. Cambodia is a case in point on how information is being misinterpreted worldwide,” he said.

Giving an example, David said a CNN report retraced the steps of women who were interviewed for a 2013 documentary. “The report initially gave the online headline ‘Cambodian girls sold for sex by their mothers’, but in fact, it featured ethnic Vietnamese women,” he said.

While the headline was later changed, he said the damage was already done as the media stirred up sensational news that contributed to a negative perception of Cambodia that would be extremely hard to change.

David said in Europe “the main reason for misperception is the readiness to believe that Cambodia should be judged with the highest standards possible after European nations assisted – some also used the word “invested” – in Cambodia’s democracy and development for decades”.

“But Cambodia, like other former colonies in Asia and Africa, received independence around 60 years ago. We didn’t have any economic or industrial structure and no adequate public services."

“Worse, scarce human resources had been almost wiped out by a genocidal [Khmer Rouge] regime, leaving the whole society broken by a culture of violence, and socially fragmented through competing ideologies and a low level of education,” he said.

On the dismantling of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, he asked: “If we did not have adequate evidence to justify what we did, why would we risk the criticism and threats we face today?

“The Cambodian government is a victim of injustice because we have never seen any public criticism or reprimand against a handful of politicians who styled themselves with insulting, defaming populist, ultra-nationalist, racial hatred and xenophobia,” he said.

He also said when expelling an NGO that for a year refused to meet the administrative requirements of the law, it became a massive attack on freedom of association, ignoring the thousands of law-abiding NGOs who operate in Cambodia without problems.

“And when just one privately owned media entity is shut down because it refuses to pay its tax obligations, the event was characterised as a massive attack on press freedoms."

“Again, the hundreds of newspapers, dozens of radio stations, TV channels, and social media that are currently working in full freedom, even when they are strongly opposed to the government, are ignored,” he said.

David also said the government sought the EU’s help to work with it to deliver very concrete actions to address land rights, labour rights and child labour. “The government is committed to adopting, with the support of the EU, a time-binding action plan to solve these long-standing issues.

On the July 29 elections, he said the government is committed to making it a democratic success. One new party announced that 60 percent of its 261 eligible candidates are former members of the court-dissolved CNRP, highlighting the openness of the upcoming polls, he said.

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