A Ministry of Information directive dated Wednesday ordered all television and radio stations to cease reading the content of newspapers on the air.
The order, signed by Information Ministry Secretary of State Uk Prathna, noted that journalists had failed to observe an Aug 29 ban on inserting commentary into the readings of articles from newspapers, and so asked them to stop reading the papers altogether.
“TV stations read stories of newspapers in their broadcasting programs and make comments in addition to the contexts of those stories, contrasting the code of ethics of the journalism profession,” the notice reads.
“Therefore, Ministry of Information would like you to stop, immediately, the reading of newspapers on programs.”
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith and Uk Prathna did not answer repeated phone calls on Wednesday.
Television and radio newsreaders said that they would respect the order, but that it was not directed at them.
“I think this does not affect the CTN news because it only refers to the commentary on articles,” CTN newsreader Soy Sopheap said.
“We are professionals,” he said.
Var Vannak, a newsreader at 103 FM radio, said his commentary was not controversial.
“When I read the news from the paper, I have never exaggerated. I only make a little comment such as admonitions, like for traffic accidents,” he said.
“We are children of the Ministry of Information so we have to follow,” he added.
Others called the move a violation of press freedoms.
Independent media trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh blasted the move, saying television and radio stations are crucial in bringing news to the vast numbers of Cambodians in remote areas who cannot afford newspapers or who are illiterate—which includes a majority of Cambodians, according to the most recent government survey in 1999.
“It may be involved with the recent trends to restrict free speech in Cambodia,” he said. “It adds another blow to the freedom of the press and the freedom of information.”
“Anything that involves prohibiting free access to information is a bad sign for Cambodian people and for the Cambodian press. When they take another step further ahead to restrict rights, then later they can impose another restriction. So step by step they move [press freedom] backwards,” he added.
Pen Samithy, editor of Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper and director of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said the move protected print journalists, whose articles were often distorted by newsreaders’ commentary.
But he said he hoped the directive would encourage professionalism, not silence the news.
“Television and radio stations should improve their newsrooms—that is the better way,” he added.