Official refutes press freedom report
A senior Information Ministry official has refuted a report by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) that claimed press freedom in Cambodia in 2021 was worse than in 2020.
Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn said such a report misleads local and international opinion about the professionalism of the media in Cambodia. He told the Post on March 13 that the report did not consider or reflect all aspects of journalism practice and media professionalism in Cambodia.
“The role of professional journalists and the practice of professional media and broadcasting companies in Cambodia are protected by specific laws consistent with the Constitution. In terms of compliance with these laws, the media – published and broadcast – has been improving day by day,” he said.
Sophorn’s remarks came in response to a new report published by CCIM and CamboJA on March 10 titled “Investigation Report 2021: Challenges for Independent Media in Cambodia”.
An excerpt from the report states: “Regarding the challenges of the independent journalist in 2021, we determined that there was less press freedom in Cambodia than in 2020.”
He said that from January to December 2021, the CCIM and CamboJA registered 51 cases of harassment against 93 journalists, including 32 arrested, 24 facing legal proceedings and 18 victims of violence or harassment.
“Reporting on sensitive topics remains a major concern for journalists in Cambodia. Self-censorship of journalists resulting from the laws, regulations and political environment in Cambodia is also a threat to independent media in 2021,” the report states.
The report also highlighted the important role of citizen journalists, who face similar challenges.
He also listed numerous recommendations that the media or civil society organizations and the government could implement to improve the situation.
CamboJA Executive Director Nop Vy said the report shows the challenges faced by journalists in Cambodia, both from a legal perspective and in terms of direct threats. He said the Criminal Code is still used against journalists. He was also of the view that some other legal tools – such as the national internet gateway – also restrict press freedom.
He noted other threats, such as reporting during the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw some journalists arrested and some media licenses revoked for reporting on the pandemic.
“These challenges require all of us to be mindful – and to respond to and address them – in order to improve the media climate in the Kingdom,” Vy said.
Sophorn disagreed, saying the media and broadcasting sector in Cambodia is remarkably improving day by day. Traditional media and new media provide quality local and international information.
“The CCIM and CamboJA report on press freedom in Cambodia clearly intends to mislead local and international opinion about the professionalism of the media in Cambodia as well as the role of journalists in Cambodia”, did he declare.
He said the alleged threats could not be generalized as a press freedom issue because they occurred on a case-by-case basis – verbal or physical threats could just as easily be linked to a tense situation a journalist was covering.
“As we all know, journalists should have complete freedom to do their job, but when dealing with sensitive topics they sometimes get nervous, especially when dealing with corruption. This nervousness can make a journalist feel threatened,” he said.
He noted that at the end of 2021, there were 787 digital media outlets, an increase of 118 from 2020. Traditional media sectors like radio and television also grew. There were around 6,000 local and international journalists in Cambodia.