Cambodia and Thailand yesterday agreed to establish direct communications between two of their government ministers to prevent “misinformation” from being spread by news organizations in their respective countries.
The agreement came just weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen complained to the UN Security Council and General Assembly about remarks attributed to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Thai news reports. Mr Abhisit said later that the remarks attributed to him had been misquoted and taken out of context.
Since hostilities arose in 2008 over the inscription of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, both countries have engaged in acrimonious verbal sparring.
Ongart Klampaiboon, minister to Mr Vejjajiva’s office, met yesterday with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith in Phnom Penh to discuss ways to prevent such incidents from recurring.
During a meeting yesterday morning, the Thai minister suggested that he should make direct contact with Mr Kanharith if there were concerns about reported remarks in the future.
“I think the publishing of wrong information can cause serious problems between both countries,” Mr Ongart said. “To control the news, whether it is true or not, I would like to contact directly with his excellency” Mr Kanharith.
Mr Kanharith welcomed the request, saying that the direct line between the two men would be similar to the “red line” between Moscow and Washington during the Cold War, only with the technological advantages of e-mail and mobile telephones.
“The strategy of sharing information will make more ties between the two countries,” Mr Kanharith said. “We [now] can contact directly…to stop information being confused.”
Mr Kanharith said further cooperation would be enhanced by close contact between Information Ministry Secretary of State Nouv Sovathero and the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and added that a bilateral committee formed in 2006 on media matters would work closer to improve relations.
After a one-hour meeting between Mr Ongart and Mr Hun Sen yesterday afternoon, Mr Kanharith said the premier had supported the strategy to improve communication channels between the two countries.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said yesterday that the new bilateral strategy had both good and bad points.
“Yes [it is good] because it may ultimately prevent violence or rioting between the two countries,” he said.
“But no [it is bad] because private media companies should be independent from the government and able to carry out their jobs without interference from politics,” he said. “As long as Cambodian media professionals adhere to a code of ethics and report accurately and fairly, then there is no need for this.”
“The same goes for Thailand as well. There is a responsibility on both sides to make sure information is quoted accurately.”
Officials at the Thai Embassy were unavailable yesterday but a statement released by the Thai government’s public relations department “encouraged media agencies to uphold facts, neutrality and creativity in their news presentation in order to move forward the national reform plan.”
During their meeting yesterday, Mr Kanharith and Mr Ongart also agreed to exchange journalist delegates to learn about each other’s countries and to organize a joint musical concert to improve relations.
“As our Prime Minister always says: ‘when we do not have a concrete bridge, we should use a bamboo bridge first,'” Mr Kanharith said.
Mr Ongart agreed. “This is the first time that our relations are returning to normal…. I think the concrete bridge should not be created until we build a bamboo bridge.”
Yesterday’s visit by Mr Ongart was the second time in less than a week that a Thai government minister has visited Phnom Penh, coming after full diplomatic relations were restored between the two countries last Wednesday.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that further cooperation between the two countries was dependent on Thailand’s actions.
“It is up to Thailand because we do not think that the problem [between the two nations] was caused by our side,” he said. “As the Prime Minister has said, we are trying to minimize the scale of the dispute, but maximize the cooperation between the two countries.”
Mr Ongart, however, declared yesterday’s meeting an “overwhelming success” in improving bilateral ties. “My visit…is the key to unlock the door leading to further resolutions in the future,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Worley)