A WAR of words has broken out between Khmer editors and Information Minister
Ieng Mouly after he made new moves to curb press freedoms.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"Last month our paper repeatedly ran
articles about the work of corrupt provincial governors who violated the
"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
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
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
"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."
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