Journalists in Cambodia are more free to do their job than they were last year, according to Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index, but those who cover illegal logging and human trafficking in the fishing industry still face a high level of risk.
Cambodia is ranked 128 out of 180 countries for press freedom—11 places higher than its position in the 2015 index, which uses indicators such as censorship, pluralism and media independence to produce its annual index.
Unsurprisingly, the headline for Cambodia’s summary in the findings is “Illegal logging off limits,” and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based nonprofit, notes that covering environmental topics remains dangerous.
“Journalists can pay a high price for trying to cover illegal logging, trafficking in connection with the fish industry or trafficking in other natural resources,” it says.
Last year, Cambodia was rated the deadliest country on earth for journalists covering environmental issues by RSF, who in a November report called attention to the four environmental crusaders (three reporters and an activist) murdered here since 2010.
Pen Bonnar, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists and the news director at TV station PNN, owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, said he believed press freedom had been on the rise since the hotly disputed 2013 election, which gave rise to an emboldened political opposition.
He conceded, however, that outlets aligned with, or sympathetic to, powerful political interests continued to receive preferential access by the government.
“It is discriminatory that they allow some media to get in to access the news, but some media are not allowed,” he said.
The RSF report also says Cambodia’s “media are all indirectly controlled by the state and are closely watched,” and draws attention to the frequency with which charges of defamation and damaging the country’s image are brought against those who criticize the government.
Cambodia placed above Thailand, Laos and Vietnam—ranked 136, 172 and 175 respectively—in the index. Finland, the Netherlands and Norway were rated the most free, while Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea tailed the list.