Government Threatens Media Outlets Over Titles

The Ministry of Information on Thursday ordered media outlets to refer to Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top CPP officials using their royally bestowed honorific “samdech” or have their license to operate in the country revoked.

In December, the ministry issued a similar directive demanding that Mr. Hun Sen and other officials holding the title be referred to as “Samdech” rather than “Mr.” in news articles, but did not specify how media outlets might be punished for failing to do so.

“If any agency does not follow the Ministry of Information’s advice to use the correct title, we won’t renew the license for them when their expiration comes,” Phos Sovan, director of the ministry’s information and broadcasting department, said on Thursday by telephone.

The ministry called media outlets to a morning meeting to disseminate the new rule but did not issue any official statement.

Ruling party stalwarts who hold the rare honorific include Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Senate President Say Chhum, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol.

Mr. Sovan said local radio outlets would no longer be allowed to syndicate programs from foreign-backed radio producers such as Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America (VOA) or Radio France International (RFI) if they did not abide by the rule.

“We will not allow the local radio to buy the programs from VOA, RFA and RFI to broadcast anymore” if they don’t adjust their content accordingly, he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the legal basis for the directive could be found in the royal decrees that bestowed the titles on the senior ruling party officials.

“The title is granted by the king, and becomes the law—we call [it a] decree. When you refer, you have to refer to that one. It is a law, because it is a decree, so you have to respect that,” he said.

“It’s the law of the land, my friend, but it does not interfere with what you want to say. If you want to criticize, it does not interfere with that one,” he added.

“In the West, ‘Mr. Prime Minister’ is enough, but here is the title based on the royal decree, you have to respect our culture.”

However, Lao Mong Hay, a political analyst and former legal adviser to the opposition party, said such rules must be grounded in explicit laws.

“What legal basis is there for the refusal to renew media licenses? What law says calling or addressing Prime Minister Hun Sen not by his title is a breach of any law?” he said, adding that the royal decrees could not be so broadly interpreted.

“No, unless there is a law punishing those who are not addressing any people by their title.”

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