An international press freedom group has called the government’s recent suspension of a bilingual weekly groundless and urged the government to lift the order.
The Information Ministry last week suspended the Khmer- and English-language Cambodia News Bulletin for 30 days, and ordered all printing houses not to publish the weekly newspaper until further notice.
The Committee to Protect Journalists almost immediately issued a statement from New York protesting the decision.
“CPJ is dismayed by your government’s censorship of the Bulletin,” Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote in a statement addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen and distributed by e-mail. She stated that there is no way to justify suppressing the publication just because the newspaper publishes controversial stories exposing government corruption and mismanagement. “CPJ urges [the premier] to ensure that the suspension order is lifted immediately,” the statement continued.
But Information Ministry Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday that the suspension was based on “systematic defamation.” He said the 3-month-old newspaper repeatedly accused top government officials of corruption and mismanagement without interviewing the accused officials or without providing evidence.
“Suspension of a newspaper should not automatically let all journalists go under protection,” Khieu Kanharith said. “CPJ’s appeal is wrong….The press law guarantees freedom to express opinions, but does not allow defamation.”
Khieu Kanharith added that the ministry’s action was taken after several verbal warnings.
Ouk Kim Seng, editor and publisher of the Cambodia News Bulletin, called the suspension groundless and said that the Information Ministry abused the press law by failing to cite specific articles.
“We have published several articles very critical to the government institutions for corruption and mismanagement,” Ouk Kim Seng said. “But we have done everything we could do to confirm officials’ wrongdoing and collect documents that support our articles.”
Norbert Klein, a media expert with Open Forum, said Tuesday that the Bulletin’s articles on corruption and officials’ mismanagement are nothing different from those published by other newspapers in Cambodia which have not been suspended.