Prime Minister Says He Supports Free Press

Opening the country’s first academic institution for journalism and other media professions, Prime Minister Hun Sen Monday affirmed the government’s commitment to a free press.

Even if a newspaper violates Cambodian press law, “I think closing down the paper is not a solution,” Hun Sen said. “The real way to improve democracy and the role of media must be the education and training of journalists.”

Speaking to more than 300 students, teachers and diplomats at a graduation ceremony for pro­spective teachers at the Royal Uni­versity of Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said a free press paves the way to peace just as much as the confiscation of illegal weapons.

He did complain that many Cambodian news outlets are politically influenced and give biased news to the public.

“Some papers transform the white to black and black to white,” he said. These kind of newspapers he called “chicken feather wrap.”

“The media must reflect reality,” he said. “It is as if we are looking through a lens. We have to look straight through it to see the right reflection.” He said journalism, like a lens, can make the truth clearer if used correctly, but it can also distort the facts.

The prime minister appealed to local journalists to write factual stories and not make subjective comments that slander individuals. “We have to write the truth, and let readers judge the facts,” he said. “The readers have a brain to judge the issues with.”

Hun Sen said it would be dangerous to deprive the Cambodian population of its right to free information. He said the people will resort to armed resistance if freedom and liberty, in the form of free political association and free press, are banned.

Peter Koppinger, country representative for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is sponsoring the new Department of Media and Communications, agreed with the prime minister’s analysis. In his speech, Kop­pinger said that while Cambodian media outlets, especially newspapers, enjoy relative freedom compared to neighboring countries, they lack “clear codes of conduct and ethical as well as professional standards in reporting.”

According to the Ministry of Information, there are more than 200 publications in Cambodia, including 145 Khmer-language news­papers. There are 13 radio stations and six television networks.

At the graduation ceremony, Hun Sen conferred certificates on 288 graduates, who will now proceed with further training to become teachers.


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