Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday that he would not issue a correction for a post to his Facebook page that falsely claimed to show a prominent activist monk, But Buntenh, kissing a woman.
The image, which was shared by Mr. Kanharith after he received it from another Facebook user, shows a superimposed portrait of But Buntenh in the top-left corner of a picture of a saffron-robed monk kissing a woman.
The monk embracing the woman is, in fact, Sri Lankan, and the image shared by Mr. Kanharith appears to be a screenshot from a video that went viral in Sri Lanka in September when it appeared to show a senior member of the Buddhist clergy there kissing a European woman.
Text accompanying the image on the minister’s Facebook page attempted to link But Buntenh to the opposition CNRP, and to low moral standards in general.
“Think hard about the CNRP,” the text states. “Almost all of them are market boys. Look at this monk destroying the Buddhist religion by kissing a foreign woman—think about that, all those who support the CNRP.”
Mr. Kanharith, who has 25,455 friends and followers on Facebook, said he would not issue a correction or clarification explaining that the image he posted was not a Cambodian monk.
“I already deleted it,” the minister said of the image, adding that he did not need to correct or clarify the potentially defamatory post as social media is not “official” information.
“No. FB is not an official site of information,” the minister said.
But Buntenh, who heads the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice, said that he had no interest in an apology from Mr. Kanharith.
“Khieu Kanharith is a very bad minister. He [has his own flaws] but we’ve never attacked him,” But Buntenh said, adding that he had not touched a woman in his 25 years serving as a monk.
“[Khieu Kanharith] should spend his time working and providing true information to the country, not attacking people. This is not the role of a minister,” But Buntenh said.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said that Mr. Kanharith should, according to standards of both journalism and basic decency, clarify that the image he posted on his widely-read Facebook page was not a Cambodian monk.
“Publishing a correction would correct this mistake,” Mr. Nariddh said.
“It is very serious to post a picture of a monk kissing a woman, which is a taboo, so there should be an apology too if the monk requests one.”