Retired King Norodom Sihanouk has requested that lawsuits be brought against Khmer-language media outlets that have in recent weeks broadcast anti-Sihanouk songs from the Lon Nol era.
In separate faxed messages sent Saturday and Sunday, he requested that Say Bory, a former member of the Constitutional Council, find a lawyer to represent him and suggested that the songs had defamed him.
But the retired King added that he would seek no monetary damages or criminal penalties against the offenders, only their apology.
“I will demand…only their ‘mea culpa’ in writing so that my honor will be respected,” Norodom Sihanouk wrote in a Saturday fax.
Following a blistering speech last month in which Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to dismantle the monarchy, pro-government newspapers and television and radio stations broadcast or printed documents relating to the border issue, many portraying the retired King’s stance in an unflattering light.
Anti-Sihanouk songs from the Lon Nol period sung by Sin Sisamouth were broadcast repeatedly on several national television stations and were accompanied by karaoke-style lyrics.
Hun Sen pledged to continue the broadcasts, but just over a week ago they were abruptly stopped.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Sunday denied that the broadcasts were ever intended to insult the retired King, arguing instead that they showed the kind of tricks that might be employed to topple a government. “Lon Nol’s regime forced the composer to write that song,” the minister said. “Playing the song does not mean we support it.”
But he added that the retired King’s choice of legal counsel was perhaps unwise. “The government is planning to sue Say Bory for alleging that the government caused [Cambodia] to lose territory,” Khieu Kanharith said. “I am afraid that even the lawyer cannot defend himself.”
Sok Eisan, director general of Apsara TV and Radio, voiced the same sentiments as Khieu Kanharith—almost word for word.
“We played the song to recall the fact that a number of inconsiderate extremists alleged the retired King had sold territory,” he explained. “It does not mean we support the song.”
“They are using the same tricks in their plans to topple Samdech Premier Hun Sen,” added Sok Eisan, although he did not say who “they” were.
Sok Eisan suggested that Norodom Sihanouk sue the Lon Nol regime for defamation instead of the media outlets that recently re-broadcast the songs.
Other media professionals, however, seemed unsure of what to say or think, and appeared afraid to comment on the delicate issue of the retired King’s lawsuit.
“I have no comment,” said Kem Gunawath, director-general of TVK. “The issue is too big for me.” He referred all questions to Khieu Kanharith.
Observers have worried that the recent bevy of defamation lawsuits is intimidating media outlets and journalists.
But Um Sarin, president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, said the retired King’s lawsuit was an exception.
“I think His Majesty only wants to defend himself and his name,” he said. “He wants to clarify that he did not do what the song says.”
“The possibility of the lawsuit does not affect the freedom of the press,” Um Sarin said. “That freedom is mandated by law.”