Cambodia’s press was no freer in 2009 than the year before, according to Freedom House’s latest ranking of press freedom around the world. Some local observers said conditions were in fact getting worse.
Released in advance of World Press Freedom Day, which is today, the annual ranking gave Cambodia the score of 61 on a scale in which 0 is free and 100 is not. The score was the same as last year’s, just high enough to secure Cambodia’s status as “not free.”
The organization in Washington dropped Cambodia from its “partly free” list in 2009, saying “increased violence against journalists” had occurred in 2008, including the first murder of a journalist-—pro-opposition newspaper editor Khim Sambo—in five years.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was unavailable yesterday. At an annual meeting of the Club of Cambodian Journalists in Phnom Penh on Saturday, however, he said the government respected the news media and even relied on it to crack down on illegal loggers and sand dredgers.
“Premier Hun Sen reads the news and he takes measures on what the news reports about sand-dredging along rivers and logging recently,” he said.
According to the club’s report, however, 10 reporters have faced lawsuits since May 2009, five times more than the year before.
“The situation to me seems to have deteriorated, especially through the use of the courts, through cases against journalists for defamation and disinformation,” said Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies.
While some hailed the early release last month of opposition newspaper editor Hang Chakra—convicted of disinformation in June for publishing articles critical of top CPP officials—Mr Chhean Nariddh said the court should not have convicted him to begin with.
“The release of one journalist does not indicate press freedom,” he said. “It does not mean anything to release someone who is not guilty.”
Like Mr Chhean Nariddh, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said undue legal pressures, from the government and more recently from private interests, were leading the country’s journalists to censor themselves.
“An interesting thing is it’s no longer just the government,” he said. “I think that will be the main challenge in the future.”