Information Minister Ieng Mouly hoped to submit the new press law to the Royal
Government's Council of Ministers on Jan 26.
If and when accepted the
press law will replace the current law put in place by the former State of
Cambodia government. Though it has not been enforced since its re-institution,
many human rights observers in Phnom Penh consider the SOC law repressive and
Mouly spoke to the UNESCO organized and funded
journalism class being taught at the Ministry of Information and gave a sketch
of the press law that he intends to submit to the Council of
Pending approval or revision by the Council, the press law
will go to relevant commissions of the National Assembly and finally to the
National Assembly itself for a vote. The National Assembly is in recess until
Mouly said the law has two parts. In the first part the law
focuses on the rights of journalists and of the press. In the second part,
responsibilities of journalists are indicated. Among the rights of journalists
are a guarantee of the confidentiality of sources. Among the journalist's
responsibilities are the requirement to form an independent press association
and to follow a code of ethics.
In an interview with the Post on Jan. 25,
Mouly said that his own private view is that there should be no pre-publication
censorship allowed by the law. "But I am not sure whether the rest of the
Council of Ministers will fully agree with me," he said.
that "they may want to restrict some dissemination of publications if there are
problems relating to national security, relations with other countries, or the
privacy of individuals, for example those facing trial."
criticism of the current press law is that it contains many provisions which
allow the government to shut down presses and confiscate printed material before
they are disseminated.
Pointing to these provisions, one human rights
advocate and expert on press law said, [The SOC law] "is a nightmare, it is
clearly a repressive instrument."
Mouly said the law would give reporters
the privilege of access to official proceedings, minutes of meetings, and
government records when such access "does not violate national security,
endanger relationships with other countries, and does not violate the privacy of
The second part of the law proposed by the Ministry
stipulates that journalists "must follow an ethical code." Mouly said that "the
code written by the International Federation of Journalists is an appropriate
Further, journalists must "form an independent association whose
representatives must be democratically elected and whose statues must be adopted
by a vote of the membership." In addition, the law will "require that the
association have a body to accept complaints from people and to settle
When asked if either he or any member of the Ministry of
Information would be a member of the Journalists Association, Mouly answered:
"It would be very difficult for the association to be truly independent if
members of the government were members of the association."
In a related
story, the Khmer human rights NGO, Vigilance, held the second of two historic
meetings between Khmer press and Khmer human rights organizations to discuss
Cambodia's press law this past week.
Phuong Sith, the president of
Vigilance, said the group "reached general agreement that they should have the
freedom to express their ideas and that this should not be denied. If something
was a fact, they should say it.
"However," he said, "there should be a
limit on the freedom of expression and of the press. The press should not be
allowed to publish facts that might hurt national security..Further, the group
agreed that the government can regulate to punish slander and libel."
Khmer newspapers and human rights organizations asked that they be
consulted on the law before it is enacted. Phuong Sith said that human rights
groups and Khmer Journalist Association are asking "to see the draft law in
order to comment on it and request that there be public hearings before the law
When Minister Ieng Mouly was asked by the Post whether
there would be public hearings on the new press law he said: "I would be happy
to meet with the Cambodian Press Association if they ask me to come and talk
about the law."
The two meetings of the Journalist's Association were
motivated by the issuance of the press law by the Royal Government of Cambodia's
Council of Ministers.
At this second meeting, Brad Adams, a lawyer and
expert on press law, told the meeting that there has been a convergence
internationally in opinion on the principles that national press laws should
Adams said that whatever restrictions were embodied in the press
law, "they should be specific, not general." And "wherever prohibitions are
involved, such prohibitions must advance a compelling national interest.
Whatever restriction is imposed, the least restrictive language possible should
be used," he said.
The second constraint was perhaps the most difficult
for many countries, said Adams. "Governments tend to confuse the interest of the
government, that is those who hold power at a given moment, with the national
interest, that is the interest of the nation as a whole." It is the later
interest that should be appealed to when press prohibitions are imposed by law,
Adams told gathered journalists and human rights advocates that
whatever regulation was accepted in the press law, it should not allow
pre-publication censorship of the press.
The current law allows the
government to shut down newspapers prior to the distribution of its