Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan has summoned a student from the country’s top state journalism school for a meeting at his office after she used a post on her Facebook page to question the sense of a guest lecture he delivered last week.
Mr. Siphan on Thursday gave a speech on being a spokesman to a class of about 20 second-year students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Department of Media and Communications (DMC) before opening the floor to questions.
The questions focused on the government’s tight grip on broadcast media, with one student asking why popular radio station owner Mam Sonando, who is openly aligned with the opposition CNRP, has been repeatedly refused television licenses.
“If you allow Mam Sonando to have a station for political reasons, you have to allow everyone,” Mr. Siphan replied to the student. “Not just CNRP—the LDP [League for Democracy Party], everybody. It’s not good for the audience because everyone is on their own side and…[it leads to] an atmosphere of polarization.”
Mr. Siphan also said that some journalists working in Cambodia are under the employ of what he termed foreign “special interests.”
“Some are called to come to be against the government as an NGO,” he said.
“A number of staff at The Cambodia Daily, we’ve learned—a few, not a lot—that they’ve been hired and provided money to do their jobs as missions to write and research,” Mr. Siphan said. “They’re not professionals of media. You get it?”
One student responded, “I’ve never heard about that.”
“Because you’re not the government,” Mr. Siphan replied.
After the lecture, a number of the DMC students took to social media to question the lecture, with one Facebook post drawing Mr. Siphan’s ire.
“I had no idea what the f–– he’s talking about!!! So f––ing mess up,” the journalism student, Teck Chan Rachna, posted after the lecture.
Mr. Siphan confirmed by telephone Sunday that he has called Ms. Chan Rachna for a meeting but said he only wished to clarify himself after the student’s confusion.
“I’m going to talk to one student now,” Mr. Siphan said. “The school asked me to come and so I volunteered my time to educate the students. They shouldn’t be rude.”
“They should have student ethics but they posted badly on Facebook and so I need to ask them questions,” Mr. Siphan said.
The government spokesman also threatened legal action if the source of the recording of his lecture was not disclosed.
“You have to tell me who gave you that one. I’m serious on that one or I will bring you to court,” Mr. Siphan told a reporter. “I need who gave you the transcript or you will be in trouble.”
“They did not ask me to record my voice, then they put it on Facebook. It’s abuse. If I think it damages my credibility, I could take it to court.”
“I was only trying to help them and they abused me,” Mr. Siphan said.
Mr. Siphan also declined to name the journalists the government had identified as being under the employ of foreign interests.
“I respect my sources,” he said.
Ms. Chan Rachna declined to comment Sunday on whether she would grant Mr. Siphan’s call for a meeting.
DMC director Som Ratana said Mr. Siphan’s request had been received by his assistant and passed on to the student. Asked if he felt a duty of care to stand in when a high-ranking official called a student for a meeting, Mr. Ratana declined to comment.
“I think maybe you can talk to her. I was not in the lecture and I feel I should not comment on that,” he said. “This is a professional thing between her and Phay Siphan.”
(Disclosure: An editor at this newspaper is currently employed as a part-time lecturer at DMC and a reporter on this article was previously employed at the school in the same position.)