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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Press law sub-decree still rankles

Press law sub-decree still rankles

A controversial draft subde-cree to the 1995 Press law is continuing to draw criticism

from a Cambodian journalists' group.

The 1996 draft sub-decree, designed to regulate newspaper licensing, includes provisions

including educational and mental health standards for editors and publishers that

are widely perceived as a threat to press freedom.

During a UNESCO-sponsored discussion forum on freedom of the press in Phnom Penh

in June 2000, UNESCO's regional communications advisor, Wijayan-anda Jayaweera, said

the sub-decree potentially "...would impose limitation on the freedom of expression

of everybody."

The Chairman of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ),

Um Sarin, says the provisions of the sub-decree are neither wanted nor needed by

the profession.

"We don't want to have a press law to limit Cambodian journalists' entry to

the profession," said Sarin.

Another concern of Cambodian journalists is the press law and its sub-decree's reference

to threats to "political stability" and "national security" as

justification to temporarily curtail freedom of the press.

Voice of America reporter Khieu Kola said that the sub-decree's lack of definition

of "political stability" and "national security" leaves the law

open to abuse.

"I think that the sub-decree would undermine many of the international standards

written into the press law, provide a tool for control of the press, and would be

a serious step backward for freedom of the press in Cambodia," said Kola.

Secretary of State for the Ministry of Information, Khieu Kan-harith denied the sub-decree

would be a threat to press freedom.

"My role is to raise the standards of the press," said Kanharith.

Kanharith said that the long-delayed sub-decree would empower journalist associations

to guarantee press freedom. He said that the ministry would introduce new provisions

in the sub-decree forbidding the government from suing a newspaper without prior

approval of journalists' associations, including the CPP-aligned League of Cambodian

Journalists.

The sub-decree would be sent to the Council of Ministers for final approval only

when there were no more complaints about it being a threat to press freedom.

"We are waiting for more complaints and if we don't receive any we will send

it to Council of Ministers," said Kanharith. "The sub-decree is not designed

to put political pressure on the press."

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