If the relationship of a journalist to politicians is supposed to be that of a dog to lampposts, as one saying goes, or either at their throat or at their feet, according to another, then Cambodia’s media today are retentive and supine.
We were greeted to an exegetic display of prostrate journalism on July 26 when dozens of reporters were bused down by the government to “inspect” a naval base in Preah Sihanouk province over which, The Wall Street Journal alleged the weekend beforehand, a deal had been done to allow Chinese soldiers to be based at, a clear violation of Cambodia’s constitution. The Cambodian government, now one of Beijing’s closest allies, called the WSJ article “the worst ever made-up news against Cambodia.” (I might add that it was my co-written article for Asia Times in November 2018 that kickstarted the “Chinese navy base in Cambodia” narrative, and prompted senior Cambodian officials to issue denials almost weekly ever since.)
The obvious question regarding to press trip to the Ream Naval Base, which I am not sure was ever posed before they left, is what were the journalists hoping to find? Burly Chinese seamen smoking Baisha cigarettes and playing dou dizhu? The lowering of the Cambodian flag and the raising of the scarlet banner of the People’s Liberation Army to greet their arrival? A Cambodian defense official admitting that the government has been covering up the truth for more than a year?