Three journalists and a deputy publisher accused of defaming a wealthy businessman admitted during court questioning on Monday that they had wrongly reported that a truck involved in an accident last month was carrying illegal wood.
The media outlets were accused of erroneously reporting that one of Seng Kok Heang’s trucks had been carrying illegally logged luxury wood when it overturned in Kompong Thom’s Sandan district on October 11.
Provincial court prosecutor Ith Sothea summoned Poeu Bunthorn, 33, the deputy publisher of Cheat Khmer Te Mouy newspaper; Rasmey Eysan newspaper reporters Prak Radeth, 42, and Chin Morn, 33; and MSJ Television reporter Prak Tha, 46, in response to Mr. Kok Heang’s complaint.
In a libel claim filed to the court on October 13, Mr. Kok Heang said the truck was transporting rubber, not wood, and that the reports were damaging to his reputation because they suggested he was illegally trading timber, Mr. Sothea said.
During questioning, the journalists and deputy publisher admitted their reporting was incorrect, he said.
The parties are expected to meet to negotiate a settlement, he added.
Mr. Bunthorn said his newspaper had based its report on knowledge that Mr. Kok Heang owned two sawmills in Sandan district and an erroneous tip from a source after its staff was barred from photographing the overturned truck.
“I told the court that we suspected the truck transported wood hidden under rubber because the driver and his workers prevented us from taking pictures of the truck,” he said.
District police chief Noun Kimnit said officers at the scene told him the truck was carrying rubber, but that he had also been told Mr. Kok Heang was a timber trader.
“I have heard that the Okhna Seng Kok Heang is involved in the timber business, but our police never stopped his truck for transporting wood,” he said, using the honorific given to those who donate at least $100,000 to the state.
Mr. Kok Heang could not be reached for comment.