A high-ranking Cambodian official wants to create a press council that would act as a self-regulating body with the power to field complaints as well as sanction reporters and their media organisations.
Senior minister Om Yin Tieng, head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, endorsed the idea yesterday at a joint workshop between Cambodia and Sweden on press freedom and ethics. Local reporters and editors from a variety of radio stations and newspapers attended the event.
“We don’t want the court to judge,” Om Yin Tieng said, although he said the court would not be taken completely out of the equation.
The new body would not replace incitement and disinformation laws that have been used to put journalists in prison.
Om Yin Tieng said the council would be along the lines of the Cambodian Medical Association, with its authority limited to withdrawing licences, issuing fines, and ordering corrections and apologies.
Although Om Yin Tieng was unclear when or how this new group would operate, the existing model is Sweden’s Press Council, which was established in 1916 and is the oldest of its kind in the world.
The Press Council’s ombudsman, Ola Sigvardsson, flew in to lead the one-day workshop.
He said about 300 complaints a year came to his office, and he rejected roughly 250 of them. If he wants to uphold a complaint, he sends it to the Press Council for approval. Newspapers, magazines and their websites then have to publish the decision.
Although he is unfamiliar with laws governing the press in Cambodia, Sigvardsson said a free and unrestrained media environment was necessary for the Press Council to work.
“Self-regulating must not be confused with self-censorship. That’s when you don’t write sensitive stories about people in power,” he said.
Journalists in attendance warmed to the idea of a Press Council in Cambodia.
“Before [going] to court, we want readers, listeners to react to the working group,” Om Chandara, president of the Khmer Journalists Friendship Association, said.
Sek Barisoth, president of the Cambodian Journalists’ Council of Ethics, said it was a good idea but needed to be supported by reporters to work.