The government is taking issue with a political cartoon published in a local English-language newspaper, which the Ministry of Information claims depicts exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra taking refuge in Cambodia.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said in a statement that the cartoon, published Friday in The Phnom Penh Post, caused confusion and affected the relationship between Thailand and Cambodia.
“It’s not the problem of offending, but this cartoon came at the time Thailand accused Cambodia of harboring Thaksin,” Mr Khieu Kanharith said by e-mail Tuesday. “This came at the most sensitive time, and it’s not a joke at all.”
Cambodian officials have denied that Mr Thaksin was present in Cambodia after Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya was quoted in the media last week saying the countries’ relations would sour if Mr Thaksin were allowed to launch political attacks against Thailand from here.
The cartoon shows Mr Thaksin shooting mines instead of balls with a golf club toward Thailand, while Prime Minister Hun Sen, Thaksin’s occasional golf partner, looks on, asking “What are you doing? It is your country.” This implies that Thaksin is in Cambodia, thus the newspaper should show evidence to that effect, the ministry statement said.
“Our editorial cartoon does not imply that Mr Thaksin is living in or taken residence in Cambodia,” wrote Post Media Co CEO Michel Dauguet in an e-mailed statement. Mr Thaksin is represented in unspecified space outside Thailand, symbolizing his exile, and exacerbating tensions at home, he said.
“The fact that some people may have interpreted that this editorial cartoon gives credit to the absurd theory of Thaksin’s presence in Cambodia is an unfortunate misunderstanding,” he added.
Expression of opinion should be tolerated under freedom of expression rules, and the government can only take action against a media outlet if the publication leads to actual damages, not just the risk of damaging a relationship, said independent media analyst Moeun Chhean Narith.
“Otherwise the press cannot do anything,” he said by telephone Tuesday. “An opinion does not need to have evidence. It’s just the readers and the audience who will decide for themselves whether they believe it or not.”
The ministry statement also accuses the newspaper of violating, with the cartoon, an article of the press law prohibiting the publication of information inciting discrimination, though it does not specify if legal action will be taken.
“I need [a] written explanation. It’s all. But if I don’t have any response, then I will decide another step,” Mr Khieu Kanharith wrote by e-mail.