The Ministry of Information is looking to restrict the number of press identity cards issued to journalists, Minister Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday, saying too many people are able to obtain the passes and use them to extort money.
“A lot of people use the Ministry of Information press passes to extort money,” he said. “Even taxi drivers have press passes, and they use them to protect illegal logging trucks from the police.”
The ministry is considering limiting large newspapers to two pass cards for reporters and two for photographers, and small papers to one pass each for a reporter and a photographer, Khieu Kanharith said. He said additional special passes could still be issued for major events.
Thieng Vandarong, deputy general director of the ministry’s Media Center, which issues passes, said Thursday that his staff had urged the government to allow newspapers more passes. He suggested that daily papers could be issued 20 passes; twice-monthly papers, 10 passes; irregularly published papers, five passes; and NGO magazines, 10 passes.
“Reporters who have the Ministry of Information press passes will have more access to cover stories,” Thieng Vandarong added.
Three-month passes cost $5 for foreign publications and $1 for local publications, generally issued on request of the editor-in-chief. Said Thieng Vandarong: “We use the money from making the press passes to run the [media] center.”
“We issue the press pass just to recognize that a person is a reporter, so when they extort money from people, they should be responsible before the law,” Thieng Vandarong said. Cambodian Club of Journalists director and Rasmei Kampuchea Daily Editor-in-Chief Pen Samithy agreed with the minister’s assertion that a restriction would reduce extortion. But ultimately the responsibility falls on the reporters, he said.
“It is very important for reporters to adhere to their code of ethics, and for newspapers to do good business, so they can support their reporters,” he said.