A press freedom organization on Friday accused the government of pressuring media organizations affiliated with opposition parties and called for an end to the legal pursuit of reporters under criminal law.
However, government officials rejected the report’s accusations, saying that recent criminal actions against journalists were undertaken by independent courts, and said journalists themselves must follow to Cambodian laws.
Reporters Without Borders, which in October ranked Cambodia 117 out of 175 countries listed in its press freedom index, called for the immediate release from prison of newspaper editor Hang Chakra and for guarantees that an appeal by jailed reporter Ros Sokhet will be heard “as soon as possible.”
Mr Chakra, the former editor of the SRP-affiliated Khmer Mchas Srok, was convicted of disinformation and sentenced to a year in prison in June for publishing articles alleging government corruption.
Reporters Without Borders staff visited Mr Chakra in Prey Sar prison where he insisted he was innocent and complained about his deteriorating health. The media organization reported that Mr Chakra said: “Living in prison is an ordeal. The tension, the violence, the lack of proper of food. I get weak very quickly.”
Mr Sokhet was sentenced to two years in November for disinformation, after he sent disparaging text messages to television personality Soy Sopheap, who is known for his close relationship with government officials.
“The prosecution should drop the charges and limit itself to giving Ros Sokhet a formal reprimand,” as Mr Sopheap had told the organization that he was unaware of who had sent him the text messages and he would not have filed a complaint against Mr Sokhet had he known he was a journalist, the report said.
The report’s authors also claimed that local broadcast media are “under the tight control” of the government and that the government will not grant opposition parties access to the airwaves.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan denied that the media in Cambodia were under the strict control of the government.
“The media landscape in Cambodia is open widely, anyone who wants can open a news outlet,” he said, adding that there were various radio stations to the opposition views such as Beehive’s 105 FM, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia. “The opposition parties can record their own voices, they could air anything, still they always complain,” he added.
Mr Siphan emphasized that Cambodian media needed to uphold a certain code of conduct. “We need honest information and professionalism,” he said. “The media without conscience will ruin the nation. The media in other countries they incite people.”
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was unavailable yesterday but he is quoted in the report as saying that the FM radio bandwidth is already “saturated.”
“We have more than 40 radio stations including 30 in Phnom Penh and 11 TV stations,” Mr Kanharith was quoted as saying. “And we don’t apply any pressure as regards renewing licenses. On the contrary, the opposition rents program hours in order to attack us.”
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said he agreed with the report’s assertions, adding that freedom of expression in Cambodia had become “stricter and stricter,” following the jailing of Mr Chakra and Mr Sokhet last year.
“Before we were happy because although there was no TV for the other parties, we at least had print media. Since then there is a new tendency to convict journalist over disinformation and defamation,” Mr Chhean Nariddh said.
Without citing evidence to support their claim, Reporters Without Borders also accused the government of tapping telephones belonging to journalists.
The government should also “stop tapping journalists’ telephones,” the report said.
Police Lieutenant Genreal Khieu Sopheak, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, flatly denied the government was involved in telephone intercepts.
“I reject this assertion that’s not correct. We don’t have material to do that,” he said.