I read the Post's article "Journalists heap scorn on their own ranks at meeting", published on Tuesday, December 23, with great interest. But I regret that the issue the meeting raised is not put into perspective because it is undeniable that without journalists' risky efforts, Cambodian people will find it hard to enjoy their right to receive information.
Throughout the year 2008, we have observed a dozen accusations of journalists allegedly taking bribes and extorting money. Several lawsuits are lodged against journalists, accusing them of defamation and disinformation. On December 23, The Phnom Penh Post published another article on Prince Norodom Ranariddh's threat to sue Moneaksekar Khmer for defamation. Khmer-language Koh Santepheap published on December 22 an article linking a journalist to a robbery case in Kampong Chhnang province's Chhnuk Tru. All these incidents raise concern about journalists' professional codes of ethics. But it should be warned that any move to address this concern must be crafted in a way that press freedom is fully guaranteed.
I completely agree that lack of professional training is part of the reason of their poor performance. But training alone will not solve the problem. Very often, journalists resort to taking bribes and extorting money just to feed their families. All these acts are committed at a cost, of course. Journalists could face lawsuits and threats, including death threats by those who could not succeed in bribing them and others, or even murder. It is advisable that all these issues should be looked at from a holistic approach in order to see the correlation between them and address them accordingly.
Everyone is seeking how to regulate journalists' performance while the same effort should be equally invested in how to protect their specialised veracity. The regulatory 1995 Press Law should be amended for the latter purpose. Moreover, apart from raising professional codes of ethics for journalists up to the standard, increasing their wages/salaries is a necessary step to address their poor performance.
Without enough food to feed their families, it is hard to imagine that they will uphold those ideal codes of ethics. Moreover, the codes of ethics must be observed by their readers, not by any state agency or those that have close tie with the government. Their freedom of expression and professionalism will be at risk otherwise.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
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