The National Assembly has issued a directive banning journalists from entering its grounds without authorization from Funcinpec Assembly Secretary-General Kol Pheng.
The “security” directive, dated March 25, came just a few hours after the public defection of three Funcinpec parliamentarians and four other royalist figures to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
It also follows Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema’s closure of the traditionally public weekly municipal meetings, possibly signaling a trend toward less transparency in government.
Previously, journalists traded their state-issued media passes for Assembly passes at the guard station at the Assembly compound’s gate. The new directive requires written permission from Kol Pheng, who, despite being Funcinpec’s official spokesman, is not known for his familiarity with the press.
However, an Assembly guard who requested anonymity said that, according to his orders, reporters can enter if they are met at the gate by a lawmaker with whom they have scheduled a meeting.
Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy, one of the March 25 defectors, said the directive is a revenge move. He noted that outgoing phone calls and the Internet connection have been cut off in the office of the Assembly commission on which both he and Ismail Yusof, another defector, serve.
“This is wrong. Kol Pheng is using the Assembly’s power to control parliamentarians, when in fact his role is to serve the 122 lawmakers,” Keo Remy said.
Soy Sopheap, reporter for Japan’s Kyodo news service, lamented the directive and agreed with Keo Remy’s analysis. “‘Grandpa’ Pheng took revenge on Keo Remy for party reasons, but the ban really hurts us,” he said.
Kol Pheng could not be reached for comment on Thursday. His CPP deputy, Chan Ven, defended the directive as a mere procedural change. “We haven’t banned journalists. We have only arranged our administrative procedures better for entrants” to the Assembly, Chan Ven said.
The Assembly is not expected to meet again until after July’s legislative elections.
meaning the current batch of members have already held their last session.