The Ministry of Information suspended on Monday the license of the tri-weekly, Khmer-language Khmer Amatak newspaper following the publication of a Sept 24 article alleging that Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay removed Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s name from a school building and replaced it with his own.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he ordered the 30-day suspension because the newspaper refused to run a correction requested by Nhiek Bun Chhay.
“The newspaper refused to print the correction. The ministry also instructed it to do so, but it still has not published any correction. The ministry has the right to suspend,” he said, adding that the article in question used unnecessarily harsh language against Nhiek Bun Chhay.
Khmer Amatak publisher Bun Tha, a Norodom Ranariddh Party adviser, called the ministry’s order “politically motivated.”
“It is simply a personal issue, so why did the Ministry of Information jump in and suspend my paper? If Nhiek Bun Chhay is not happy with the article, he should go to court in accordance with the press law,” he said.
Bun Tha claimed he had evidence to support the article which alleged that Nhiek Bun Chhay and senior Funcinpec member Serei Kosal wrongfully erased the name of former Funcinpec President Prince Ranariddh as a school benefactor from the school building in Battambang province, and replaced it with their own.
“The article was slanderous and untrue,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said Monday. “I spent my own money on the school, but the newspaper distorted the story. I asked for a correction, but they refused. I filed a lawsuit last week against the paper.”
Independent media trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh said the suspension is evidence of the government’s continuing power to abridge the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of press and expression.
“The situation at the moment has improved, but the government can revoke press freedom at any time,” he said, adding that he fears more restrictions will surface in the run up to the 2008 election. (Additional reporting by Emily Lodish)