Press freedoms in Cambodia are better than they were just a few years ago, but the country could still improve on its treatment of reporters and the media, said Lao Mong Hay, director of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, at a conference Thursday to mark World Press Freedom Day.
“Journalists are freer and are more professional, however, they are not free yet,” he said.
Broadcast journalists in radio and TV, especially, are under tight controls, he said. Some TV stations say that if the state-owned TVK station broadcasts something, they will broadcast it as well to avoid problems, he said.
The meeting drew some 200 reporters from Cambodia and other Southeast Asian nations to the Royal Phnom Penh hotel to talk about press freedom, the state of Cambodian media and outreach efforts of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, which sponsored the conference with the Freedom Forum, a US-based media organization.
Drawing special attention during a morning question-and-answer session was the fate of two newspaper reporters arrested Sunday for allegedly forcing a businessman to pay them $500 to kill a damaging story about his business.
Um Sarin, the president of the Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists, insisted that the journalists were tricked by the businessman. He said the reporters were told to meet at a cafe to pick up a gift from the businessman but when they arrived they were arrested.
He warned reporters to be careful if a subject calls them to offer them money. “Maybe the police are waiting for you,” he said.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state for Information, responded to questions about Sam Rainsy’s request for a TV and radio station license, saying he has been denied because the market is too large already. Another TV or radio station would only make the other stations weaker, he said.
He said if the Sam Rainsy Party was given a TV station it would set an unmanageable precedent, with dozens of other political parties coming forward to get their own stations as well.
“There are 27 other political parties, so if they want to create a TV station, they could just sign a paper to create a party just by getting 5,000 supporters,” he said.