S ECOND Prime Minister Hun Sen has joined the new League of Cambodian Journalists
(LCJ), while the government has given it a $1,700 donation.
Both Hun Sen
and First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh attended the first congress of
the LCJ - formed by a breakaway from the Khmer Journalists Association (KJA) -
in a Phnom Penh dancing club on July 4.
They presented a four million
riels (US $1,700) government donation, while Hun Sen made little secret of his
distaste for the KJA.
"I don't want the league that was successfully
created today - one Prime Minister came in the morning, another came in the
afternoon - to tremble," he told the congress to applause.
dissolution of that association [the KJA] was not accidental," he
He expressed disappointment at opinion polls conducted in the past
by the KJA, one of which found dissident Sam Rainsy was Cambodia's most favorite
"In a situation where national reconciliation is proceeding
smoothly, are such polls necessary?" Hun Sen asked.
Of KJA president Pin
Samkhon, the Prime Minister said: "He should see who he is, why he is left
Hun Sen said his membership of the LCJ should not be a matter
"I'm a member of the league. This is my right. Don't
accuse this or that person of interfering. This is democracy," he said, adding
that the KJA remained recognized by the government.
He said he had come
to the congress "to make my submission to the league", not for the LCJ to make
submissions to him.
Hun Sen, appearing to confirm rumors that he had
dined with LCJ leaders around the time of the breakaway from the KJA, said there
were people who maintained that "even having a meal with Hun Sen is
He strenuously denied he had done anything improper, or had
instigated the forming of the league.
LCJ president Chum Kanal - a Koh
Santepheap newspaper writer and, until he resigned the day the LCJ was formed,
deputy-director of the Phnom Penh Municipality's information bureau - had
earlier publicly denied dining with Hun Sen.
Kanal has said the LCJ is a
neutral, independent group of journalists, but that it would accept political
donations provided they came without conditions.
Kanal, asked after the
congress about the LCJ's funding, told the Post he would borrow money from
"friends" for rented offices for the league.
He intended to ask for money
from the United States-funded Asia Foundation - which funds the KJA - to re-pay
The Asia Foundation has said that any funding of the LCJ will
be contingent on being assured that it was a non-partisan organization acting in
the interests of a free press.
Chum Kanal said the venue, food and drink
at the congress - held at Bopha Khleang Rumsev, a cowboy-style dancing club -
was provided free of charge by the owner. He did not know the owner's
He said the LCJ now had 38 newspapers, magazines and other
organizations as members, and was a "success" over the KJA.
meanwhile, has been left with only five newspaper members: the Khmer
Independent, Khmer Neutral, New Voice, a French-language paper and a
Pin Samkhon, the KJA president, said he had had
enough "headaches" and hoped to end the hostility and crisis in the press
"For me, it is over now. There is nothing for me to worry
about and what I have to continue doing is to keep the KJA running."
KJA has about $350,000 in funding from the Asia Foundation to be spent over two
Samkhon also once accepted a two million riels donation from
Prince Ranariddh, a move which is understood to have attracted internal KJA
murmurings about Samkhon's politics.
But division within the KJA is known
to have largely centered on Samkhon's ardent defense of newspapers - all
primarily anti-government - which have been criminally prosecuted by the
Meanwhile, divisions within the press will again be
highlighted by an international journalists conference to be hosted by the KJA
in Phnom Penh on July 24.
The LCJ has threatened to boycott the
conference unless it is allowed to host it.
More than 30 foreign
journalists are to attend the conference, held under the auspices of the
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), to discuss the theme "Media and
Government: The Search for Solutions."
Jacqueline Park, the IFJ's
Cambodia-based representative, said the KJA had worked for almost a year to
bring the conference to Cambodia.
"It seems very unfortunate... because
the LCJ is not yet affiliated to the IFJ. It just would not be appropriate for
there to be any change in who hosts the conference.
"We will be sorry if
they [the LCJ] do decide not to attend because we feel that they will be denying
themselves a wonderful opportunity."