Cambodia has been ranked 90th out of 167 countries in the Reporters Without Borders annual World Press Freedom Index, released Thursday.
Cambodia jointly holds the position with Burundi, Qatar, Venezuela and Zambia, and is far above Laos, which came in 155th, Vietnam at 158th, and China, which ranked 159. Cambodia also ranked above Thailand at number 107, and the Philippines, which came in 139th.
Seven European countries including Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands shared the top position, while the US slipped more than 20 places to 44th, partly due to the recent imprisonment of New York Times journalist Judith Miller. North Korea came in at the bottom, just behind Eritrea and Turkmenistan.
“In Cambodia we have the law allowing the editors to withhold the source of information. You can see that in the US they jail journalists because they refuse to disclose the source of information,” Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said of Cambodia’s ranking. “We are proud to say we have never jailed a journalist for not revealing a source,” he said. The US Embassy declined comment.
Khieu Kanharith said that Mam Sonando of Beehive Radio, who was arrested and charged with defamation earlier this month, did not balance the radio interiew that led to his arrest with a government response.
The radio host was arrested following an interview during which Hun Sen was heavily criticized over border issues.
“Mam Sonando did not ask the government’s side of the story,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding that accusing someone of selling Cambodian land is particularly serious.
Vincent Brossel of Reporters Without Borders wrote in an e-mail that the ranking was based on the September 2004 to September 2005 period, before Mam Sonando’s arrest. “The arrest of Sonando and growing pressure from the government will obviously have an impact on the next ranking,” he wrote. “We are very concerned about this case.”
Pen Samithy, editor in chief of Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper and president of the Cambodian Club of Journalists, said he was surprised by Cambodia’s ranking, which he said looks good for Cambodia, though he suspected it did not take Mam Sonando’s arrest into account.