Prime Minister Hun Sen said some opportunistic journalists have been abusing the privileges of their profession by passing judgment on the subjects of their reporting rather than letting their readers or audience make up their own minds.
Some have even been broadcasting fake news, which constitutes a crime, Hun Sen noted.
The prime minister made the statement to mark his 5th annual media correspondents’ meeting scheduled for January 14, which was cancelled this year due to Covid-19 concerns.
“I strongly urge all journalists to just stick to the facts and do things the right way. You’re supposed to be professionals, so act like one. Don’t resort to insults or gossip and don’t go out of your way to offend people or go around making things up, either,” he wrote.
Hun Sen said a small cadre of corrupt journalists had spent the whole past year extorting people and taking bribes, either in exchange for dropping scandalous stories or promoting profitable lies.
“These rogue journalists brazenly fabricate the truth, insult their betters and incite social discord for meager sums of money relative to the huge amount of trouble they cause,” Hun Sen wrote.
The prime minister noted that they had given the media a bad name and destroyed the dignity, honour, and prestige of the truly professional journalists
“This year we’ve been able to watch other countries from afar to see how savage Covid-19 is, but the fake news media will turn society rotten faster than even Covid-19 can manage to spread.
“This will eventually require the government to take action to protect the happiness of the people and the peace and development of the nation,” he wrote.
Huy Vannak, president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia, shared Hun Sen’s concerns, saying he had observed what the prime minister was describing firsthand.
Vannak said there are many official media and social media channels that spread disinformation or fake news as their only apparent purpose.
He said some social media channels would spread fake news and then fail to publish a retraction or correction even after they had been provided with accurate information.
He also noted that some do not spread fake news, but publicise contents that are intended to defame others and cause incitement.
Vannak said there are three approaches to address the issue and they must be used in tandem.
“The first is that members of the media and journalists need to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards in their reporting,” he said.
He related his second point by remarking that journalists are only human and anyone can make a mistake – but when a mistake is made in their reporting, they must quickly issue a correction along with an apology or explanation.
“The third approach is to shut down problematic media entities or publications entirely, and this shouldn’t be seen as a violation of anyone’s human rights,” he opined.
Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) who attended the third correspondents’ meeting in 2019, said he wished to see more coming of such a gathering.
Vy said the annual meeting between Hun Sen and journalists was more of a lengthy speech than a dialogue as there was not any opportunity for the prime minister to hear their concerns.
“What we want to see is that our prime minister listens to the voices of journalists who attend the meeting, rather than journalists listening to him,” he said.
Vy said most journalists behaved responsibly, but there are some who do not understand the ethics of the profession or its ideals because they lack education or training in it. He believes that the best way to change that is for more veteran journalists to teach them the ethics and values of their profession.