Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM heaps praise on Fresh News

PM heaps praise on Fresh News

A man looks at Fresh News stories on Facebook in a coffeeshop in Phnom Penh yesterday.
A man looks at Fresh News stories on Facebook in a coffeeshop in Phnom Penh yesterday. Hong Menea

PM heaps praise on Fresh News

Prime Minister Hun Sen made glowing overtures to government mouthpiece Fresh News yesterday, claiming it was a news service on par with 150-year-old stalwarts Reuters and the Associated Press.

The premier used a speech to garment workers at the Canadia Industrial Complex to highlight that students in Japan and Cambodians in Vientiane relied on Fresh News – which boasts 2 million Facebook followers – as their key source of information.

“Fresh News now is not only being watched in the country but also abroad, and we also have a quick information system that is no worse than AFP, UPI, AP or Reuters,” Hun Sen said, also referring to Agence France-Presse and United Press International, both about half a century old.

In recent weeks, Fresh News has published unsubstantiated and seemingly fantastical conspiracy theories pulled directly from anonymous Facebook pages that foreshadowed the expulsion of pro-democracy NGO National Democratic Institute and the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha on treason charges.

The online outlet enjoys a cosy relationship with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, often getting first access to information and circulating government documents, as well as scoring rare exclusives with Hun Sen himself.

The prime ministerial accolades for the outlet, meanwhile, come in the wake of the recent government shutdown of the hard-hitting Cambodia Daily newspaper and over a dozen independent radio stations.

Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific head Daniel Bastard said “Fresh News cannot be compared to professional and independent press agencies” due to its obvious bias, which deprives its articles of credibility.

“Although Fresh News can deliver quick information, it cannot be seen as a reliable source of information, since it spreads unsubstantiated conspiracy theories,” he said via email.

“Fresh News recently published several articles accusing NGOs, journalists and members of the US Embassy of being part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. One journalist, Geoffrey Cain, was deemed a ‘foreign spy’, alongside [jailed filmmaker] James Ricketson. No evidence or credible source has been produced.”

Fresh News CEO Lim Cheavutha, however, welcomed Hun Sen’s praise with pride and defended publishing the conspiracies.

“Such articles have attracted huge interest from people, and it is not different from WikiLeaks, which leaked important documents of the USA, and big media in the world like CNN, BBC, Reuters, AP, etc,” he said. “Fresh News is an independent institution and does not have senior officials behind it, and the institution is not a mouthpiece for the government.”

Huy Vannak, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Interior and president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia – where Cheavutha is a deputy general secretary – said he was “sure” Fresh News verified the allegations before publishing them.

“To be honest, it is the role of authorities or court if there is a complaint or the need to verify” the identity of a Facebook user, he said, suggesting the routine journalistic procedure was in fact “beyond the scope” of a journalist.

Vannak said Cheavutha was “like a brother” to him, and while the premier made a point about the speed of pro-government Fresh News, it still needed to develop its content in order to be in the same ballpark as the international wire services.

Reuters did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but their Handbook for Journalists demands accurate and unbiased reporting.

“For a single source story, the informant must be an actual policymaker or participant involved in the action or negotiation with first-hand knowledge, or an official representative or spokesperson speaking on background. Such information should be subject to particular scrutiny to ensure we are not being manipulated,” it reads.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ice cream, noodles flagged over carcinogen

    The General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) has identified three types of instant noodles and ice cream trademarks originating from Thailand, Vietnam and France that are suspected to contain ethylene oxide, which poses a cancer risk to consumers. The general department has

  • Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

    CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines. In

  • Rise in Thai air routes to Siem Reap fuels travel hopes

    Local tourism industry players are eager for regional airline Bangkok Airways Pcl’s resumption of direct flight services between the Thai capital and Siem Reap town on August 1 – home of Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor Archaeological Park – which is expected to boost the growth rate of

  • Angkor lifetime pass, special Siem Reap travel offers planned

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to introduce a convenient, single lifetime pass for foreign travellers to visit Angkor Archaeological Park and potentially other areas. The move is designed to stimulate tourism to the culturally rich province of Siem Reap as the start of the “Visit

  • ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meet commences, Taiwan issue possibly on table

    The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings hosted by Cambodia kicks off in Phnom Penh on August 3, with progress, challenges, and the way forward for the ASEAN Community-building on the table. Issues on Taiwan, sparked by the visit of US House Speaker

  • Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

    This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era. The following is The Post’