M inister of Information Ieng Mouly and Secretary of State for Information Khieu
Kanharith have given conflicting messages about the contents of the new press
law, now before the Council of Ministers for approval.
participants of the UN Centre for Human Rights sponsored seminar on the Press
Law and Freedom, Mouly described the law as "the most liberal press law in the
In contrast Kanharith apparently said that the Minister of
Information and the Minister of Interior would have sweeping powers to close
down newspapers pending a court injunction.
The Ministry of Information
has yet to make public the text of the proposals.
were unsure if he was referring to the old SOC law or the new press law which
will replace it. Kanharith failed to clarify the matter during a question and
answer session after the speeches.
As the Post went to press, Kanharith
was in Battambang and could not be reached for comment.
statement set alarm bells ringing among human rights organizations and one
senior NGO official drafted a commique they and the Cambodian Journalists'
Association were expected to sign.
It said: "To close press organs (even
if only for a limited period) or to engage in prepublication censorship would
seriously violate the concept of press freedoms and the
"Such provisions would represent a major step backwards
towards dictatorship and against freedom and democracy. We strongly urge the
Council of Ministers to reject any such provisions - or any other interferences
with the freedom of the press - even if there are attempts to include them in
the press law."
In the question and answer period, Mouly declined to be
specific about the punishments the media might face if they violated the new
press law, but said that civil rather than criminal charges would be
He also said the government would not retain the right to bar
distribution of material with which the government disagreed. "We will try to
settle all disagreements with the press through the courts," Mouly
However a source, who is close to on-going disputes about the
contents of the law within the Council of Ministers, said that one option under
consideration is to allow free publication, but to retain the right to halt
Prior to the press seminar, HM King Sihanouk last week
advised the government against restrictions on journalists.
In a message
from Beijing, where he has undergone cancer treatment, the King said: "I don't
think we need to draft regulations or laws for Khmer and foreign
The King said that he was always the loser in his many
struggles with the press, "though sometimes my cause was just."
reminded the seminar audience that the Constitution specifies that the King will
reign but not rule, thus that his advice is not binding on the
The Minister of Information said "there is a need to
establish ground rules in order to avoid any abuse and to consolidate
Mouly said the press law had relatively few chapters and they
were divided between press freedoms and press responsibilities.
short articles deal with press freedoms and one long chapter with nine long
articles, altogether 11 pages long, deal with press responsibilities, he told