Ministry Planning Regular Press Conferences

The Information Ministry is reviewing a plan to revive monthly press briefings featuring several ministries, a spokesman said on Sunday, in what one analyst called a pre-election tactic to court favorable coverage.

The plan, which is set to be reviewed by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith after the Khmer New Year holiday, would include speeches from four or five ministry spokesmen followed by a question-and-answer session with journalists, according to ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng.

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Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, right, and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Jieshi sign an agreement for training and exchanges on last week in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“The topic depends on each individual spokesperson, depending on what they want to tell the press,” he said.

Mr. Kimseng gave differing answers on who would be allowed to attend the conferences, saying that the ministry would consult with local journalists’ associations before making any decisions.

“No discrimination, everyone will be invited,” Mr. Kimseng said, before qualifying that some of the forums may be restricted to select outlets.

“It depends on the situation at the time,” he said. There are hundreds of organizations reporting in Cambodia, Mr. Kimseng said, and the ministry might not be able to accommodate all of them at once.

The forums would begin “as soon as possible” and would restart past, similar efforts by the ministry, according to Mr. Kimseng.

“I don’t know what happened to this kind of thing,” he said, adding that the specifics of the plan were still being finalized.

Most mass media outlets are state-run or have ties to the ruling party. A post-election plan for a new opposition-aligned television station stalled over concerns about alleged radiation from its antenna.

Last week, the Foreign Ministry echoed past government sentiment in an 11-page missive “To Tell the Truth,” both chastising wayward outlets and boasting of their ability to operate without censorship.

It cast U.S.-funded radio Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as “die hard pro opposition radio stations” who, alongside English-language media, were given “freedom to operate despite their hidden agenda to destroy the image and the reputation of the government.”

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said on Sunday that the press briefing plan appeared to build on a massive banquet hosted by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January for largely CPP-friendly journalists.

While “it remains to be seen” whether the ministry would allow a truly open forum, Mr. Mong Hay said there was little doubt what the government was hoping to achieve.

“It’s part of the election campaign to influence public opinion,” he said. “It’s one element of the strategy.”

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