Spokespeople should deny news reports they are unsure about until they can verify the truth and be more proactive about disseminating the government’s viewpoint, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan and ruling CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virun instructed fledgling state mouthpieces at a seminar Monday.
At the training event held at the Information Ministry in Phnom Penh, Mr. Siphan, a Cambodian-American who served as a CPP senator in the 1990s, said his time as a government spokesman had taught him the necessity of providing confident answers even when uncertain about the facts.
He recounted an episode when he was faced with a rumor that Prime Minister Hun Sen died in a car crash.
“One day I received information posted on Facebook saying that Samdech [Hun Sen] died in an accident,” he said. “Immediately, somebody called and asked about the accident. At that time, I told him: ‘No, that news is not true,’ as he had called me when I was driving to Kompong Som.”
“We are spokesmen, so we have to say for the first answer: ‘That is not true,’ and then we telephone to the relevant authorities and check whether that information is true or not,” he said.
Mr. Siphan also counseled those in attendance to actively release positive news rather than just reacting to queries.
“We have seen that spokesmen never create information to present to the media unless they are given a question to get comment sometimes,” Mr. Siphan said. “The spokesmen talk very little every month—they just talk when problems happen on occasion, so we can call that reactionary.”
Mr. Phal Virun, who was named one of three CPP spokesmen earlier this month, then took to the podium, telling those present that reporters from some news outlets ask biased and leading questions.
The former pro-government television news analyst said that to counter this, spokespeople must keep abreast of the issues, and stay on message when faced with hostile interviewers.
Mr. Phal Virun also criticized current spokespeople for not actively promoting the government’s side of the story, using the example of Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish environmental activist who was arrested and deported Monday after his NGO conducted a campaign against a controversial proposed hydroelectric dam.
“I do not understand how one foreigner, a private individual, led many activities in Cambodia, but the authorized ministry did nothing to provide reactions to the issue,” Mr. Phal Virun said.
The CPP spokesman said state mouthpieces who are aware of the war of ideas they are fighting—and are not too timid to speak to the media—are key to the government’s survival in an environment where media outlets often aim, he said, to confuse the public to support the opposition.
“We have to understand clearly that the work that we need to do depends on the mood of the battlefield—to stop the policy of confusing the public,” he said.