The Ministry of Information on Wednesday issued a statement instructing media outlets to cease the use of the title “Mr.” for figures like Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng who, it said, ought to always be referred to using the “samdech” honorific.
Mr. Hun Sen, alongside his wife, Bun Rany, Mr. Kheng, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Senate President Say Chhum are the only commoners with the rare royally-bestowed title, usually reserved for royalty and the Buddhist clergy.
“The Ministry of Information has seen that there are still gaps among some media outlets, who forget to use the titles that were granted by his majesty the king, who is the highest institution in Cambodia— especially the title of ‘samdech,’ provided to great important leaders beloved by the people,” the directive says.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached on Wednesday. However, Mao Ayuth, a secretary of state at the ministry, said that media outlets should follow the directive when referring to important political figures out of a sense of respect.
“If we use it, it’s better, as the title of ‘samdech’ was granted by his majesty the king, who is Cambodia’s highest institution,” he said. “‘Samdech’—it’s just spelled S-A-M-D-E-C-H, rather than using the word ‘Mr.’”
Asked whether penalties would be imposed on those who ignore the order, Mr. Ayuth said using “Mr.” to refer to samdechs was impolite, and compared it to using the Khmer verb “hob”—to eat—when referring to a monk eating, instead of “chhan,” the correct verb.
“If I were a foreigner, I would use that word to let them know that my institution has morality and respects the traditions of this country,” Mr. Ayuth said, again being asked if there would be penalties. “There’s nothing wrong, just put the title.”
Yim Noy, another senior Information Ministry official, said that no penalties were currently in place.
“We do not yet have any measures,” Mr. Noy said. “The ministry will continue to monitor this issue.”