In an apparent departure from the usual diet of colourless press releases and updates on the travel plans of officials, the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit website yesterday posted two articles critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
The articles – Reuters’ coverage of Sunday’s mass opposition rally and a news analysis piece from the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua – were both removed from the website by early evening.
“In a democratic society, people are the owners of the power, so the two leaders should ask the people through a referendum whether they want a re-election or not,” president of Licadho Kek Galabru told Xinhua in the article posted online.
The comments were not out of the ordinary, but their appearance on a government website, long the sole domain of pro-government information, surprised media experts, who said yesterday that the government may be experimenting with offering more diverse views in its official news outlets after orders from Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith to state media.
“It’s a surprise because for so many years, the government has maintained an entrenched policy of [not publishing] any negative reports about the government,” said Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies.
“But actually, it is not a coincidence, because recently the Minister of Information Mr Khieu Kanharith has instructed all government TV stations not to follow their old policy of media coverage,” he added. “So I think they may have followed the same instructions not to just report on the positive.”
Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
Nariddh said that the reluctance to comment on the issue and the subsequent removal of the articles from the website could indicate that the media unit was still coming to grips with the new instructions.
“Following the national elections, I think at the moment they are still testing the water,” Nariddh said. “So even with the instructions from the Ministry of Information, they are not sure whether it is okay to do this.”
Pa Nguon Tieng, president of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said that opening state media to alternative information was most likely a show for the international community.
“The government is under a lot of pressure from the public, and they also want to show an image to the international community. Maybe they want to show the international community that they are doing reform, starting with diversifying their media,” he said.