Fear Hinders Independent Journalism in Cambodia, Survey Finds

Fear of government interference, legal repercussions and violence remain impediments to free and independent journalism in Cambodia, according to a survey released on Wednesday in a report by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM).

CCIM surveyed 102 professional journalists across the country late last year for the report, titled Challenges for Independent Media 2015, which shows that 58 percent of respondents did not feel free to report on all issues without fear of interference or other repercussions last year, up from 47.3 percent in 2014.

Media professionals cited fear of legal and other threats, particularly from local authorities, as reasons to self-censor their reports—with politics, corruption and land concessions considered the most sensitive issues.

“The government has always claimed to be independent, but in reality different institutions perceive the freedoms differently,” Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said of the findings.

“When writing on sensitive and controversial issues in Cambodia, journalists fear threats once their stories are published and so they censor their stories to avoid repercussions,” he added.

The study found that 25.5 percent of journalists reported being physically attacked or harassed for their work, while 29.4 percent reported being threatened for working on investigations into illegal logging, corruption and land disputes.

“One journalist reported being shot while reporting on illegal logging,” the report says. “Another reported having a grenade thrown into his home after his report on a criminal investigation.”

Pech Pisey, director of programs at Transparency International Cambodia, said the government continued to have strong control and influence over the country’s print, television and radio media.

“In Cambodia, media [outlets] face many controls by the state,” Mr. Pisey said. “So journalists feel frightened to speak out against them—because of intimidation, harassment or legal prosecution.”

“The media need to increasingly work together to tackle these issues and should avoid being politically aligned,” he added.

CCIM’s report notes that foreign-owned or sponsored media companies received the highest rankings for independence, with Voice of Democracy, The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post topping the list. (Voice of Democracy is run by CCIM.)

However, 44 percent of respondents said the majority of fellow journalists lacked professionalism, owing to poor salaries, insufficient training and corruption.

While the CCIM report is based on a small sample, research by international organizations has also recognized constraints to independent media in Cambodia.

Cambodia ranked 139 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index, which also considers the country to be the most dangerous place in the world for environmental reporters.

The growing influence of online social media in Cambodia is expected to improve press freedom at the individual level, but more is required to achieve independence for the country’s media institutions, Mr. Chhean Nariddh said.

“Media independence cannot be achieved immediately,” he said. “Political will is important to raise awareness and educate public officials about the rights of the media.”

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