Ethics Awards for Much Maligned Media

The first ever Annual Journalism Ethics Awards ceremony was held Wednesday in Phnom Penh, which conferred a total of 19 awards on five national newspapers and eight national television stations in recognition of their adherence to ethical journalism.

The newspapers garnering awards in categories including balance in reporting, gender fairness and impartial use of language were Rasmei Kampuchea, Koh Santepheap, Kampuchea Thmei, Nokor Wat and Moneakseka Khmer, and the TV stations honored were Bayon, Apsara, Hong Meas, SEA TV, TV Channel 5, TV Channel 3, TV Channel 9 and CTN.

The awards follow intense criticism of the TV networks’ coverage of the disputed July 28 national election, which heavily favored the ruling CPP in the run-up to the election and failed to cover post-election protests.

The media organizations nominated for awards are part of a two-year project called Improving Journalism Ethics in Cambodia Through Monitoring and Media Watch TV Show, which aims to improve journalism ethics and help raise the standards of an industry long criticized for low wages, graft, and biased reporting. The project is run by the Cambodian Journalists Council for Ethics (CJCE) and local NGO Cambodia Health Education Media Service, with funds from the U.N. Democracy Fund.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who spoke during the ceremony at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said it is the responsibility of the CJCE to improve media standards.

“Journalism [in Cambodia] is a free profession, not a job of civil servants. If we step in, it will mean the government is stirring in the business of journalism,” he said.

Mr. Kanharith also admitted that engaging in ethical journalism can be a dangerous job in Cambodia, particularly when it comes to investigating illegal logging and corruption.

But he added that some journalists also use their job to crooked ends and the CJCE must be strong in the face of such corruption.

“If 30 percent of journalists are bad, it affects 100 percent of journalists, so such individuals have to be fired,” he said.

The director of the Cambodia Institute for Media, Moeun Chhean Nariddh, said that the awards were not recognizing the recipient organizations for practicing perfectly ethical journalism, but rather rewarding efforts to produce more balanced reporting.

“It is impossible to find completely balanced and accurate reports, so the awards use the carrot on the stick, to be critical but encourage them to avoid making mistakes,” he said.

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