Reporters Send Complaint Over Warning Letter

More than 30 journalists in Ratanakkiri province have written to the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) about what they described as a threatening letter sent by the provincial governor last week in which he said journalists should stop extorting money from illegal loggers.

According to a copy of the latest letter, released by the CCJ on Monday and thumb-printed by 32 journalists, governor Thorng Savun sent a letter to Bayon TV reporter Sok Kimsan on August 24 complaining about reporters “rallying along the streets and in coffee shops” to extort loggers.

“I see that the journalists every day seem to take crimes and turn them into careers—such as with logging. There have been some [journalists] chasing vehicles and asking for gasoline money. If they do not pay, they publish it,” Mr. Savun wrote in his letter, which he sent via online messaging service Line. A copy of the governor’s letter was attached to the CCJ complaint.

Mr. Savun said that such lightly veiled extortion was not becoming of journalists.

“If you want to be professional journalists, it requires being responsible to the public for the news,” he said. “I can’t allow a group of journalists to do illegal things…and take their press cards to do things like that.”

Reached Monday, Mr. Savun declined to comment on his letter. However, provincial government spokesman Moeng Sineath said that extortion by reporters was a major problem.

“It looks bad,” Mr. Sineath said. “Some journalists only have press cards to come to extort money, and it seems like they are beggars. It is hard to look at and hard to talk about.”

Ket Sothy, a SEA TV reporter in Ratanakkiri, said Mr. Savun should simply order the arrest of anyone engaging in extortion, and that his letter likely had a more sinister purpose.

“We think that message was made to scare the free press,” he said. “If someone does something, he should punish them according to the law. Do not judge all the journalists.”

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