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Kingdom creeps up in press ranking

THE state of the Cambodian media improved slightly in the past year, despite a legal crackdown on government critics, according to a report released on Tuesday.

In its Press Freedom Ranking, covering the period from September 2008 to August this year, international press watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodia 117th, up from 126th among 174 countries, well ahead of neighbours Myanmar (171), Laos (169), China (168), Vietnam (166), Thailand (130).

Critics said the ranking ignored the spate of prosecutions against government critics in 2009, which saw one opposition-aligned newspaper editor sentenced to a year in prison on disinformation charges.

“Look at the reality. Evaluations are one thing, but the reality is that some journalists were put in jail for their opinions,” said Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

Sam Rithy Doung Hak, deputy director of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, said certain press freedom articles in the new Penal Code were an incremental improvement over old laws mandating jail terms for defamation and disinformation charges, but that not much had changed in the past year. “In general, I think it’s still bleak,” he said.

Mao Ayuth, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, said he had not seen the report but was not surprised by its findings. “I think the people are free to express their opinions,” he said.

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