Following a meeting with an ASEAN official on Tuesday, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that the Cambodian press has greater freedom than most of its Southeast Asian counterparts.
But according to a media watchdog, Kanharith’s statement – while technically accurate – ignores alarming increases in impunity for those who threaten journalists in the Kingdom over the last year.
After his meeting in Phnom Penh with Prasit Sangrungrueng, secretary-general of the Union of Media of the ASEAN (UMA), Kanharith wrote on his official Facebook page that “Cambodian journalists shout that press freedom in Cambodia is going down, but during ASEAN meetings, [visiting representatives] are pleasantly surprised because Cambodia has more press freedom than other countries and this is the truth.”
The Kingdom’s press-freedom ranking dropped one spot from last year to 144th out of 179 countries, according to the 2014 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders earlier this year.
The country, however, fared better than most ASEAN countries, namely Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam.
“But its press freedom state is worse than last year … and the main factor that is threatening [it] is the state of impunity,” said Cambodian Center of Independent Media spokesperson Sor Sorthy, adding that foreign and local media face the same threats.
Thirteen reporters have been killed since 1993 but no one has been convicted for the killings, according to Sorthy.
So far, three Cambodia-based reporters – Taing Try, Dave Walker and Suon Chan – have died in 2014.
Last year, before July’s national elections, the Ministry of Information implemented a five-day ban on election-related radio coverage. Several journalists were also injured during protests at Wat Phnom in September and Freedom Park in December.
“Recently, the government’s attempt to pass a cybercrime law … would further limit freedom of expression and press freedom,” Sorthy said.
He called on the Ministry of Information to “bring those responsible for crimes against journalists to justice” and reveal the official cyber crime draft law. Kanharith couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.