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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Concern over press law draft

Concern over press law draft

T

HE Ministry of Information has released the most recent press law to the Khmer

Journalist's Association for comment. A copy has been obtained by the

Post.

The previous press law was withdrawn from National Assembly

consideration after domestic and international criticism of the draft. It had

received the approval of the Council of Ministers prior to it submission to the

Assembly.

The new draft appears to take into account much of the

criticism that followed the release of the last draft. According to one press

analyst some problems remain, particularly with that portion of the law which

stipulates how a newspaper might be shut down, and Article 10, which specifies

newspaper obligations with respect to requests for retraction and

reply.

"Changes to the draft law are significant, and most are for the

better. By better, I mean more liberal. But two articles are still worrisome.

Further there is no guarantee about what will happen when the draft is returned

to the Council of Ministers," the analyst said.

The two contentious

articles, according to the analyst, are 10 and 12. Article 10 allows anyone who

believes that "any article or text, even if the meaning of the article or text

is implied, or any picture, drawing or photograph affects his honor or dignity,

such person may demand a retraction from and the right to reply to the publisher

of the newspaper." The retraction and reply can be demanded even if the report

is true.

Article 12 allows the Ministry of Information to suspend a

publication and collect its material in cases where risks to national security

and public order are involved. However the Ministry must get court approval

first.

According to the press law analyst changes for the better in the

draft were much more extensive. All violations of the law are treated as civil

rather than criminal offenses. In contrast to the last draft, journalists are

not subject to arrest or prosecution for what they write.

The freedom of

information clause in the draft no longer gives the Ministry being queried the

final say in denying information. Newspapers can press suit in court for that

information.

The previous requirement for a single press association has

been dropped, more than one is allowed by the new draft. And, in contrast to the

old draft, the associations are not empowered to grant press cards to members.

Two articles that required government approval to open a bookstore,

printing office and regulated receiving foreign information have been deleted

entirely.

Two articles were added that make it difficult, if not

impossible for one newspaper to dominate all others by making it illegal for one

foreigner or one person or corporation to own or control more than 20 percent of

the Khmer language newspaper titles for sale in Cambodia.

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