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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Editors angered by Mouly's moves

Editors angered by Mouly's moves

A WAR of words has broken out between Khmer editors and Information Minister

Ieng Mouly after he made new moves to curb press freedoms.

The first

salvo was fired by Mouly on July 11 when he wrote to the Phnom Penh Municipal

Court asking them to investigate allegations that two newspapers, Sakal and

Kolbot Angkor, were "badly affecting social order and national

security."

Editor-in-chief of Sakal [Universe] Lach Samrong said: "I

solemnly declare that if we are asked to go to court we will tell Mouly that if

he continues to behave like this he will become the minister of a spittoon

[nobody will follow him anymore]."

"Ieng Mouly does not know anything

about the journalist's profession and writing newspapers.

Koung

Sovan-narom, Editor-in-chief of Kolbot Angkor [Children of Angkor] said: "I

absolutely deny the allegations. The unfair thing is Mouly did not inform us he

was unhappy, he sent the letter direct to the court to sentence us.

"I

should not be going to court as there is no proof against me. But I am ready to

go to court and will welcome it if they follow the Constitution and see I'm not

at fault.

In a robust response, Mouly told newspaper editors in a debate

over press freedom at the Cambodiana Hotel on July 23 that they were not

properly qualified.

He said some newspapers were publishing inaccurate

information with no proof or good sources.

He added that men with no

experience or skills were opening newspapers and publishing stories purely to

make profits.

To curb these problems the Ministry of Information on July

16 issued new warnings to the press not to print articles which provoke

disturbance, intimidate people, poison the atmosphere or badly effect social

order.

Mouly's July 11 letter to the Phnom Penh Court said Sakal's July

8 issue and Kolbot Angkor's July 10 issue "exaggerated the truth on the

attempted coup with the aim of stirring up trouble and inciting officials to

break their solidarity." The letter asked the court to solve the issue according

to law.

Both newspapers say they are still waiting to here from the court

about the letter.

The July 8 issue of Sakal newspaper carried headlines

which asked the following questions: Who managed the soldiers in the coup? What

for? For the coup? What are we going to do with the worm in our own flesh [The

problem coming from within our own group]?

The paper also said alleged

coup plotter Prince Chakrapong should not have been allowed to go into exile and

demanded he be tried for treason.

Samrong said: "I wrote the stories just

to provide information not to stir the atmosphere.

"Mouly is the one who

wrote the code of ethics and the press law but he himself does not respect the

law.

"If the father of the press [Mouly] does not know and respect the

law himself, who will respect the law and follow it?

"I am ready to go to

court now because I have never been there and if I was invited to go there I

would be happy to see what is justice and injustice."

Samrong also said

he faced problems distributing his paper because anonymous people in cars and on

motorcycles always followed him around with the intention of harming him.

He said his paper's circulation had dropped from 10,000 to 2,000 because

of the intimidation so he had decided to suspend publishing his newspaper.

Sovannarom said: "We were very surprised by the letter sent to the court

because the July 10 issue of Kolbot Angkor had no stories about the

coup.

"But if the government insists on harming us I cannot challenge

them because I, as well as other people, have no power. So the only thing I will

do is appeal for an independent judiciary and the intervention from national and

international organizations.

"Last month our paper repeatedly ran

articles about the work of corrupt provincial governors who violated the

peoples' rights.

"We did not use derogatory words in our articles but we

were blamed [by Mouly] for saying bad things about the governors. But if the

governors had done what the people needed we would not have said anything.

"The Ministry of Information called us to a private meeting to discuss

the articles. During the meeting [Secretary of State for the Information

Ministry] Khieu Kanharith threatened to use political power to destroy our

newspaper if we continued to print more stories about the

governors."

Mouly said on July 23 that some editors did not have proper

qualifications, experience or knowledge.

He appealed to journalists:

"Please if you do not have good knowledge you should stop your newspapers and

start butchering and selling meat. That is a fine business for

you."

He said in technical terms the papers were terrible, words were

often spelled incorrectly and the papers were badly laid-out with displays of

dead bodies on the front page.

Mouly said: "If all the newspapers only

report crimes and banditry no foreign people will come to the country."

He said the Cambodian press law was the most liberal in the region and

after a rebirth of press freedom in the last few months the press had a lot of

growing-up to do. He said the press was terribly disruptive to government.

Pin Samkhon, President of The Khmer Journalists Association, said:

"Sakal and Kolbot Angkor were threatened because they used strong words to

insult the government. I informed those newspapers I was ready to help

them."

"The government is aware that many journalists lack experience in

their profession so they should be very patient under the circumstances.

"They must give freedom to the press and not arrest or jail journalists.

Both groups must learn at the same time. The government should learn about

democracy and freedom and journalists should learn about writing."

Samkhon said some newspapers were running cartoons depicting

politicians' heads connected to the body of an animal.

He said: "Khieu

Kanharith has told the newspapers that the government will introduce measures to

stop this. The association has already asked those papers to re-examine their

publishing. But I don't think cartoon pictures are a problem because they are

just depicting opinions through drawings."

Reasmey Kampuchea

Editor-in-Chief Pen Samitthy said: "I want 100 percent press freedom. I will be

100 percent responsible, but it is my duty to report things not in the interests

of democracy."

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