National Assembly Secretary-General Kol Pheng on Wednesday denied he was banning journalists from the Assembly, defending a March 25 security directive as “not a big deal.”
The directive requires journalists to apply for written approval from Kol Pheng before entering the Assembly’s grounds, rather than simply presenting media passes at the guard station as they did in the past.
The restriction on media access is merely a measure to prevent parliamentarians from using the Assembly as a soapbox for their political parties, Kol Pheng said. “I’m not banning reporters, but I want to know why they’re entering the Assembly’s premises when the Assembly is not in session,” Kol Pheng said.
Meetings with individual lawmakers will be approved, he said. “Just inform me first.”
The directive, he said, was prompted by Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy, who conducted a news conference at the Assembly to announce his defection to the Sam Rainsy Party. Keo Remy did not ask permission from Assembly administrators.
Parliamentarians are allowed to hold news conferences on the Assembly grounds—but not in the interests of a political party, Kol Pheng said.
Twelve local journalists on Wednesday petitioned Keo Remy and Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay to intervene, saying the measure is an unfair restriction on press freedom.
Keo Remy—who has called the directive an act of revenge by Funcinpec’s Kol Pheng for his defection—responded immediately, firing off a letter of protest to Heng Samrin, acting president of the Assembly while Prince Norodom Ranariddh is in France.
Journalists perform an important public service by connecting leaders to the people, and vice versa, through information, Keo Remy said.
“Journalists and politicians cannot be separated. Media access is necessary for transparency,” he said.
Kol Pheng insisted the directive was merely a security procedure, although he did not specify what security threats the Assembly building is thought to face.