UN Calls for Journalists’ Safety on Press Freedom Day

The 20th World Press Freedom Day was marked in Phnom Penh on Friday with the message that more needs to be done to ensure that journalists working in Cambodia can freely and safely express themselves without fear of retribution.

Speaking at a U.N.-backed “Safe to Speak” event in Phnom Penh, Anne Lemaistre, Unesco’s representative in Cambodia, said journalists who cover sensitive topics in Cambodia “are often faced with powerful entities and are in need of legal protection.”

“Cambodian journalists work under difficult conditions with low salaries, lack of access to information and limited journalism training,” Ms. Lemaistre added.

“Without an Access to Information Law, many journalists find it frustrating to obtain official information, and they are left vulnerable to legal attacks for inaccurate reporting,” she added.

The CPP-dominated National Assembly has twice rejected a draft Freedom of Information law that would require the government disclose information on matters that are in the public interest.

On Wednesday, Washington-based think tank Freedom House released its annual report on the media and found that Cambodia remained “not free” for journalists, earning it 149th place out of 191 countries.

Addressing ambassadors, journalists and editors in Phnom Penh on Friday, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that free expression involves “understanding, habit and a clear scheme,” but that journalists would be better protected if they had a legal buffer.

“There needs to be a lawyer working for the press,” Mr. Kanharith said. “In future, the journalists’ association needs to have a lawyer in place.”

Also on World Press Freedom Day, the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) announced that Cambodia Daily reporter Phorn Bopha is the recipient of its 2013 Courage in Journalism Award after bearing witness to the murder of environmental activist Chut Wutty when she and another female colleague were investigating illegal logging in a remote area of the Cardamom Moun­tains in Koh Kong province.

“In spite of the danger that she has confronted, Phorn [Bopha] is committed to journalism and has taken up some of the most controversial stories of her day,” the IWMF said in a statement.

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