The Cambodian official most responsible for rooting out government graft is asking for help from the civil institution most responsible for rooting out government graft: the media.
Om Yentieng, who as head of the Anti-Corruption Unit has kept interactions between his office and the press mainly limited to announcements of the latest big bust, made an unusual admission last week: he could use some extra help.
“The ACU remains weak, and our five-year plan is to organise a workshop with the media to discuss how we can co-operate with each other on articles about corruption,” he said, adding that the Ministry of Economics and Finance could “reward” reporters for writing hard-hitting exposés.
Aside from mentioning potential co-operation with two of the largest journalism associations in Cambodia, Yentieng was sparing when it came to details of the plan.
Other statements he made raised questions about how the media could maintain its independence while working alongside a governmental body calling the shots.
He proposed, for instance, a discussion on “how the ACU and the media would co-operate when publishing a story about corruption that would be dangerous.”
Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said that in theory, the idea looks good, but it could easily flop if it fails to address the larger issues of transparency and the safety of journalists.
He cited last month’s grisly slaying of Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter in Ratanakkiri province whose last article was about illegal logging, and the beating merely weeks later of a journalist working in the same area.
“If the government truly commits to fighting corruption, I think that one of the priorities is to adopt the freedom of information law and oblige all the government ministries to open all the relevant information,” he said.
Teang was also concerned about the apparent offer of financial compensation implicit in Yentieng’s mention of rewards, which could create corruption in an industry beset by low wages.
Taking a more optimistic view of Yentieng’s statements was Puy Kea, a board member of the Cambodian Journalists' Council of Ethics.
Kea argued that of all subjects reporters cover in Cambodia, they are most in the dark when it comes to corruption.
“With help, his unit will be more powerful,” he said. “There will be a lot of reporting on [corruption] and the public will be more aware.”