Press freedom in Cambodia has deteriorated in the last year, France-based Reporters Without Borders announced Monday.
Cambodia dropped 18 places to 108th on the group’s annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, placing it beneath Malaysia, which came 92nd, and Indonesia, which came in 103rd.
Cambodia nevertheless remained above Thailand which came 122nd, Vietnam which was 155th, the Philippines which ranked 142nd and Singapore which came in 146th. Finland was judged to have the greatest press freedom while North Korea came in last at 168th.
“It was a bad year for press freedom,” the group said in its brief review of Cambodia, citing events that had occurred in the last 12 months including the October 2005 arrest of Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando. Mam Sonando was detained for several months after conducting a radio interview in which Prime Minister Hun Sen was heavily criticized for his handling of Cambodia’s borders.
“After this, associates of Hun Sen threatened to have arrested two correspondents for international radios Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, who were forced to flee the country,” the report claims, without elaborating.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith described Cambodia’s ranking as “fair according to European standards,” in that it was compared favorably to its neighbors. But he added: “By dropping Cambodia, this organization maybe is discrediting itself.”
Independent journalism trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh disagreed. He noted that the removal in May of jail time as punishment for defamation, has seen a surge in popularity for the charge of disinformation, which still carries a prison sentence. “Cambodian journalists are exercising self-censorship,” he said, adding that reporters often shrink from accusing government officials of corruption.
Dam Sithek, publisher of the pro-SRP newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer, was sued for disinformation in July after printing an article accusing Cabinet Minister Sok An of corruption.
“I know many reporters who have written political stories about the government but then their stories have not been reported in the press because their editors didn’t run them,” Moeun Chhean Nariddh added.