Freedom of the press in Cambodia took a substantial dive this year, dropping 41 places on a worldwide “press freedom index” released Wednesday by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
Of the 173 countries evaluated, Cambodia came in at No 126 in the 2008 listing, which was assessed between Sept 1, 2007 and Sept 1, 2008, the group’s report said.
This was the worst-ever ranking for Cambodia in the seven years the organization has compiled the index: Last year, Cambodia ranked 85th out of 169 countries.
The Reporters Without Borders index factors in violations that directly affect journalists, “such as murder, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats” and news media, such as “censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment.” Impunity, self-censorship and the free flow of information on the Internet are also considered.
In Wednesday’s report, Cambodia was classified as among countries that “waver between repression and liberalization, where taboos are still inviolable and the press laws hark back to another era.”
Khim Sambor, a journalist for the opposition-party-affiliated newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer, and his son, were shot to death while driving on a busy Phnom Penh street July 11 by unidentified gunmen traveling on a motorcycle.
“Cambodia got a bad score as a result of a journalist’s murder that was probably instigated by a police officer, and the fact that control of the media was stepped up for the parliamentary elections,” the report stated, but did not elaborate.
Ministry of Information Secretary of State Uk Prathna said he disagreed with the ranking. “Information from journalists in Cambodia is very broad,” he said, noting that there are many newspapers and magazines.
Pen Samithy, editor of Rasmei Kampuchea Daily newspaper and the president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said he agreed with Reporters Without Borders. However, he also pointed out that journalists in Cambodia face different obstacles than those in other countries.
“Eighty percent of the newspapers in Cambodia are very poor and don’t have computers or proper equipment,” he said.
“So when organizations make a judgment about journalists, it is not fair to compare us to other developed places where they have a lot of investment in training and equipment,” he added.