The Interior Ministry on Friday said it would investigate a story about child prostitution in Phnom Penh that reappeared this week on CNN, a day after a prominent journalist union criticized the U.S. network for recycling a “fake news” story that could have a negative impact on Cambodia’s international reputation.
The ministry’s investigation would center on Agape International Missions (AIM), a Christian anti-human trafficking NGO that provided information for the CNN report, said Chou Bun Eang, secretary of state with the interior Ministry and vice chair of the national committee to combat human trafficking.
“We just want them to clarify because what the CNN broadcasted, it already happened in 2007. They broadcast it every year,” Ms. Bun Eang said.
“We are going to gather all the information and send it back to CNN because what they’ve done, it manipulates the truth and it affects the country’s reputation,” she said. “It is not a small issue.”
CNN has run numerous stories on Svay Pak, a commune in Russei Keo district that was a notorious hub for child prostitution until a crackdown in the mid-2000s.
In a 2013 CNN film “Every Day in Cambodia,” actress Mira Sorvino accompanied Don Brewster, AIM’s founder, around Svay Pak to meet girls who had been sold into the sex trade, sometimes by their parents. The documentary was then aired on numerous occasions in 2015 after it picked up an award.
On Tuesday, CNN ran a story with the headline, “Life after trafficking: The girls sold for sex by their mothers,” in which a reporter returned to interview woman featured in the 2013 film. Although the story was about the women’s progress, the top half of the story recycled the same horror stories of the girls’ ordeals.
In reaction, Huy Vannak, director of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia, criticized what the group described as “fake news” being peddled by CNN.
“I saw CNN broadcasted the short documentary many times and headlines have been changed,” Mr. Vannak wrote in the statement on Thursday. “I notice that there are mistakes…in interpretation that may affect Cambodia’s reputation around the world.”
Child brothels in Svay Pak were shut down 15 years ago, he claimed, accusing the NGO of perpetuating a false narrative.
“The Svay Pak area was a brothel area that existed during the 1990s and there were multiracial prostitutes. Now there are no more,” Mr. Vannak said. “CNN reporters who cover news in Cambodia do not deeply understand about prostitution in Cambodia.”
“CNN reporters only obtain fake and make-up news from the couple who are the founders of Agape International Missions (AIM) Don Brewster and Bridget Brewster,” the statement said.
The CNN story also drew ire on Facebook this week, with many pointing out that the women featured in the story speak Vietnamese and may not be Cambodian, unfairly tarnishing the country’s reputation.
The Brewsters could not be reached for comment on Friday. CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Mr. Vannak said the network had received the journalists’ letter and said it would discuss their concerns.