Minister of Cabinet Sok An has distributed a publication on the limits of press freedom to all media outlets.
The publication, a transcript of a November lecture by a French professor at the Royal School of the Magistracy, addresses the “proper use and improper use of rights.”
“I hope this booklet will become a principal document for national and international public opinion,” Sok An wrote in a letter to local media leaders.
Several newspaper editors contacted Thursday said they had not received the publication, distributed Wednesday to journalists attending a news conference at the Royal Academy of Cambodia.
But journalists briefed on the lecture’s contents and Sok An’s booklet said he may have overstepped his boundaries.
“If you’ve never been a journalist, you cannot talk about the press law,” said Khieu Kola, a Club of Cambodian Journalists board member.
Keo Sothea, editor of the daily Samleng Yuvachun Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth) newspaper, called the booklet “meaningless” after reading it Thursday. He said his paper worked within the press law.
“We will adhere to the Constitution, not Sok An,” he said.
The lecturer, Hughes Moutouh, bases his arguments on French law and argues in favor of greater protection for public officials from insult and defamation for the sake of stability.
“There is the principle of ‘safeguarding the state,’ which implies greater protection for the authorities that make it up…. Thus, particular protection is given to representatives of the army, magistrates, civil servants and, of course, members of the government,” it reads.
The lecture also presented special restrictions on foreign press, citing a World War II-era French law since repealed. Under that law, the Ministry of Interior has discretionary power to crack down on a foreign publication.
No such provision exists in the Cambodian press law.
Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development, said the publication was in line with a government that has grown “more and more tense” through the anti-Thai riots a year ago and the July 27 general elections.
“They want everything to be in control,” Chea Vannath said.
Cambodia has a relatively liberal press law but international observers around last year’s elections said the media at times conducted irresponsible, biased reporting, and that it sometimes played self-censor because of intimidation tactics.
Following the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots, Beehive radio station founder Mam Sonando and En Chan Sivatha, editor of the Rasmei Angkor (Light of Angkor) newspaper, were jailed for inciting violence.
In October, Ta Prohm radio journalist Chuor Chetharith was shot dead outside the station. No arrests have been made in that case.