Coinciding with World Press Freedom Day, members of the media and government officials gathered in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to honor journalists slain during the 1970s civil war, with the Information Ministry announcing plans to build a press museum.
The remembrance was held at a dedicated monument opposite Raffles Hotel Le Royal, which served as the unofficial headquarters of the international press corps during the war. It is inscribed with the names of the 37 Cambodian and foreign journalists who died or disappeared between 1970 and 1975. Many more Cambodian journalists died after the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was among officials who laid flowers at the base of the monument, which was unveiled in 2013.
World Press Freedom Day events in Cambodia are usually held in collaboration with Unesco. However, the ministry would also host its own from now on, Mr. Kanharith told the crowd. He said that within the next two years the ministry would also create a press museum, featuring collections of photography and equipment.
There were no details of the estimated cost of a museum or when or where it might be built.
Mr. Kanharith brushed off this year’s Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, which ranked Cambodia 132nd out of 180 nations, worse than last year.
“It is not important that we have to do [something] to satisfy anyone,” he said.
He also echoed previous government defenses by referring to neighboring countries, some of which have only state-controlled media.
“Our freedom, if compared with other countries…how much freedom do they have?” he asked.
Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said next year’s World Press Freedom Day event would be bigger and better, with invitations sent out internationally.
“Press freedom should be used as the right path…for the development of the country, and stability and peace,” he said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists tallies the number of journalists killed in Cambodia since 1994 at 12. According to its website, nine of those deaths were directly related to the journalists’ work.
The most recent cases include the 2014 murder of Suon Chan, who worked for the newspaper Meakea Kampuchea. He was beaten to death outside his home in Kompong Chhnang province after reporting a string of stories on illegal fishing. Later that year, in Kratie province, freelance journalist Taing Try was shot dead while investigating alleged illegal logging.
Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly identified Ouk Kimseng as a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. He is the spokesman for the Information Ministry.