Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Press freedom in ‘tragic decline’: report

Press freedom in ‘tragic decline’: report

Former RFA reporters Oun Chhin (centre, back) and Yeang Socheameta (left in blue shirt) are escorted by officials after being arrested last November. A new report has found freedom of the press in ‘tragic decline’ in Cambodia
Former RFA reporters Oun Chhin (centre, back) and Yeang Socheameta (left in blue shirt) are escorted by officials after being arrested last November. A new report has found freedom of the press in ‘tragic decline’ in Cambodia Pha Lina

Press freedom in ‘tragic decline’: report

Freedom of the press has been on a “tragic decline” in Cambodia, with independent media outlets now in “ruins as a result of constant depredation by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime”, according to a new report published this week by international watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The report was compiled from an October Reporters Without Borders’ investigation carried out by Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific desk, and was published on Tuesday.

The authors view last year’s commune elections as the turning point, whereby the ruling party reacted to a strong showing by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in June by targeting the press.

“Hun Sen sensed the danger and saw the need to rein in the media,” they wrote.

A few months later, the Cambodia Daily was shuttered after a widely criticised tax dispute, more than a dozen radio stations that broadcasted Radio Free Asia and Voice of America were shut down, and RFA pulled its in-country operations.

In the same month in which the CNRP was dissolved by the government, two former RFA journalists were arrested on charges of “espionage” and remain in prison without a trial.

Independent media is in “greater danger now in Cambodia than at any other time in its recent history, which still bears the deep scars of the Khmer Rouge era”, an RSF statement released alongside the report says. “The fight for the freedom to inform in Cambodia must therefore be pursued at all costs.”

Local journalist Sun Narin said the report reflects the reality of the current situation in Cambodia, with the targeting of journalists not only bringing fear within the industry, but rippling outwards among the public.

“People in general are also afraid of expressing their opinion,” he said.

“Even I, myself, I’m a little bit afraid of meeting with former CNRP officials because the [government] officials can accuse me anytime,” he said.

Ed Legaspi, executive director of the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Press Alliance, said the outlook was “very bleak” for press freedom, especially for traditional media.

The report also documents the stranglehold on local media by a small group of businesspeople linked to the Cambodian People’s Party or who are government officials themselves, especially in broadcast media.

“The combined ratings of just four TV channels represent 80 [percent] of the country’s viewers and all of these channels are owned by people who are either members of the government or its advisers,” the report reads.

“Government members or advisers own eight of the ten leading TV channels.”

Among these powerful players is Hun Mana, head of Bayon Media Group, which owns the country’s biggest TV channel, Bayon TV. Meanwhile, Senate President and CPP Vice President Say Chhum owns newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea, as well as several TV and radio stations.

For San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, the potential impact of such a media landscape is immense. “The absence of independent media may contribute to [increased] corruption and poor public performance,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Police arrest Canadian with 167kg of drugs

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on November 15 placed a Canadian national in pre-trial detention in connection with smuggling and possessing 167kg of illegal drugs. Deputy National Police chief in charge of anti-drug enforcement Mak Chito told The Post on November 15 that the man was arrested