David Puttnam, who produced the 1984 film “The Killing Fields” and now serves as the U.K.’s trade envoy to Cambodia, praised the government Thursday for its commitment to ending corruption and called on the media to develop a more constructive role as the government seeks to develop the country.
Speaking at a lunch hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia on the third and penultimate day of his trip, Mr. Puttnam said that the Cambodian government had adopted an admirable approach to stamping out corruption that focused on changing people’s attitudes and values.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere…where I have received such an absolute answer from government on the issues of stopping and stamping out corruption,” Mr. Puttnam told the audience of about 50.
“I find the commitment and determination here to confine it and root it out is very real. Now, in five year’s time I might be found to be a complete fool, but I don’t think I will be, I really don’t think I will be.”
Answering a question after his speech about the legacy of his film, Mr. Puttnam relayed a message he said he had passed on to university students who had attended a screening of “The Killing Fields” on Wednesday night.
“I said to the students…whether they like it or not, they are forever the children of the Killing Fields—forever. What they have to decide is whether the Killing Fields were a watershed upon which this extraordinary country is willing to rise, and be enormously successful, or will it just always remain a terrible dark memory from which it never recovers?” he said.
The trade envoy also clarified why Prime Minister Hun Sen had canceled a meeting the pair had scheduled on Wednesday.
“I received a very, very, very profound apology [from Mr. Hun Sen] and I don’t feel remotely offended or put out,” Mr. Puttnam said, noting that Mr. Hun Sen had complained of illness at a government-business forum on Tuesday.
Prompted by a reporter’s question about the meeting’s cancelation, Mr. Puttnam then offered some advice to the media.
“The challenge [for the media] is that you have to decide what your role is. Is it to inflame or inform?” Mr. Puttnam asked the reporter.
“I would suggest…that there is only one answer, which is accurate information with attempts to build on people’s initiatives for the future. Not by berating everything at hand, and not by falling over to whoever is in power,” he added.
After the meeting, Mr. Puttnam, whose “Killing Fields” tells the story of a pair of tenacious journalists trying to expose government lies during wartime, clarified his comments.
He said that over the next 20 years the government would negotiate the “tension” between stability and freedom of expression, and that freedom of expression itself would be at risk if abused by the media.
“It really does come down to how responsible the media is prepared to be, or does the media just become another arm of the opposition?” he said.
On the political situation in Cambodia three decades after the release of his film, which helped raise global consciousness about the Cambodian civil war, Mr. Puttnam said the peace was to be commended and called for patience.
“I would prefer to see a Cambodia that got the fundamentals right and got the pieces in place—as it were, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in place—before it starts plunging forward with overambitious promises because they’re forced to make ambitious promises by the electoral cycle,” Mr. Puttnam said.