Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith urged the public, and especially journalists, to be wary of misinformation or “fake news” that may circulate in the run-up to the July general elections, which will be contested by several political parties.

Kanharith addressed an April 26 workshop on the role, duties and professional ethics of journalists, in Siem Reap.

“I believe the media have a central role to play as the elections approach. Unfortunately, it is possible that fake news or misinformation may be published or shared,” he said.

He warned journalists to be very careful, and reminded them to adhere to their professional ethics.

“We need to be aware that as the election nears, false information and exaggerated anecdotal stories may take on national significance, so we must all be cautious,” he said.

He recalled the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a vast amount of misinformation was widely circulated on social media.

“For example, a person fainted due to exhaustion, and it was widely shared that they were suffering from the virus. Fortunately, people soon learned to refer to government institutions if they needed accurate, authentic information,” he said.

“Journalists must publish their news in a professional and ethical manner. Clear sources will serve as the armour that will protect them from legal sanctions. It is important to remember that they should not judge something as good or bad, but remain neutral. Journalists should simply report the facts of a case,” he added.

Nop Vy, executive director of CamboJA, the Cambodian Journalists Association, concurred with the minister’s views.

“False information can be dangerous, and could mislead the public into making poor decisions. With the upcoming elections, this could have serious consequences for their lives and the fate of the nation,” he said.

“I would like to see the information ministry support independent media outlets by helping them separate factual information from incomplete and inaccurate content,” he said.

He warned that the digital age meant information could spread very rapidly.

“In addition, some political parties are disseminating inaccurate information, in order to improve the public’s perceptions of their election promises,” he said.

“This is why we require highly qualified journalists – they need to verify the promises of each political party,” he added.