Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that roles within the state framework will be made available for any former employees of online media outlet VOD who wish to engage in public affairs.

He advised Minister of Civil Service Prum Sokha to accept their applications and find them roles that match their qualifications.

“VOD has had its licence revoked and will not reopen. I want to reach out to the staff members who have become unemployed because of the poor decisions of their leaders. I have decided to provide employment to those who wish to serve the government,” he announced in a social media post.

“Outsiders should not attempt to interfere in the Kingdom’s internal affairs. Our decision will not be changed. Foreigners have no right to demand anything of us, as this is purely a matter for Cambodians.

“Shutting down an unethical broadcaster will not kill the freedom of the press, but will actually help to strengthen the professional ethics of Cambodian journalism,” he added.

Separately, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has brushed off concerns raised by a number of foreign embassies in Cambodia over the revocation of VOD’s licence, saying their concerns were “politically motivated”.

The embassies’ reactions followed the February 13 annulment of the media licence of VOD, which was overseen by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM).

Foreign ministry spokesman An Sokkhoeurn said the revocation came after VOD – which published in both Khmer and English and also produced radio programmes – had seriously breached journalistic ethics and tarnished the honour of the government by not making corrections and issuing a public apology for their “intentionally slanderous” article on the government’s disaster relief to quake-hit Turkiye.

The February 9 report centred around claims that Hun Manet – deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and future prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) – had signed off on the document on his father’s behalf.

The report claimed to have quoted a government spokesman as saying that it was not improper for Manet to act in an official role on behalf of the prime minister in delivering assistance to Turkiye, formerly called Turkey.

Several embassies, including those of the US, France, Germany, Spain and the EU Delegation to Cambodia, issued statements critical of the shutdown.

“For more than 20 years, VOD has been reporting impartially and based on facts that benefit the Cambodian people. We call on the Cambodian authorities to reconsider this decision,” said the US embassy.

Sokkhoeurn was quick to rebuff the statement.

“I am deeply disappointed and completely dismiss any concerns raised by foreign embassies on the grounds of political discrimination and bias regarding the revocation of the licence of a local media outlet that receives foreign funding,” he said.

The spokesman added that administrative action against those who violate the law should not raise as many concerns as misinformation or intentional slander that undermines human rights and freedoms.

“Unfortunately, the biased statements of these embassies show a disregard for the indisputable fact that the media outlet in question refused to correct its mistake, in accordance with the provisions of the press law.

“Claiming to be a ‘free and independent press’ is not a licence to violate the law with impunity. The suggestion that this outlet reported on facts is baseless,” he added.

Several media outlets and civil society organisations (CSOs) also issued a joint statement expressing regret over the closure.

Pen Bona, secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, reminded journalists that they should be providing clarity, not skepticism, to the public.

“Journalists should write or comment according to the facts of a story, and not to score political points for their masters,” he said.

Reached by The Post for further comments, Bona took issue with the CSOs’ joint statement claiming that VOD was the “last independent media outlet in Cambodia”. He said there remain innumerable media outlets including radios, television and online news agencies that operate without restrictions in the Kingdom, as long as they comply with the press law.

According to the information ministry, as of end-2022, there were 878 online media outlets, 446 newspapers – including 25 owned by foreigners – as well as 26 new agencies and 51 journalist associations (with one co-owned with a foreigner). There were also 83 FM radio stations in Phnom Penh which had 137 affiliates in the provinces, and one AM station.

There were also 19 analogue TV stations and eight digital TV stations as well as two cable TV service providers in Phnom Penh and 210 cable TV service providers in the provinces, seven over-the-top services that provided TV via the internet and two satellite TV service providers (Decho DTV and SkyOne DTV).