HE Royal Government has withdrawn the draft press law from consideration by the
National Assembly after domestic and international pressure characterized the
law as oppressive. Sources in the Information Ministry say that the law will be
"looked at again."
There was no public organization of Assembly Members
against the law, and no competing draft was submitted as was the case with the
Council of Magistracy Law.
It is not known when the press law will next
be considered. Like the Council of Magistracy Law, withdrawn also from Assembly
consideration, there is as of press time no scheduled review.
withdrawal followed the movement of the law down the National Assembly's agenda
from first to near last.
The release of the draft press law prompted a
press conference by the Khmer Journalist's Association (KJA). The discussion
focused on possible reactions by the KJA to the law. Critical letters to the
Royal Government from Human Rights Watch and the International Center Against
Censorship were also discussed, as was the KJA's own press release.
While the law states that the press has the right to maintain the
confidentiality of its sources, prohibits pre-publication censorship, and
stipulates that the press organization be independent of the government, several
of its articles have become the focus of domestic and international
A large measure of the criticism is focused on ambiguous
wording. Some analysts suggest that this may simply be the result of poor
drafting. But they also say: "To the degree that ambiguities work in the favor
of the government and against the possibility of a free press, the law may be
repressive, even if unintentionally so."
For example Article 6 stipulates
that "An independent press body ... shall be established." The International
Center Against Censorship, has criticized the article for implying that only one
press association will be allowed in Cambodia. Legal analysts in Phnom Penh
believe that this may violate the freedom of association, and would potentially
allow established journalists to exclude others. Foreign journalists and
freelance journalists might be most at risk.
In Article 13, the Ministry
of Information is empowered to suspend publication of material that "affect
security or public order." While national security is defined as "the
territorial integrity or continued existence of the Kingdom of Cambodia," public
order is not defined.
One analyst said: "Leaving the term public order
undefined is particularly dangerous as it is regularly used as the legal basis
to close down the press by undemocratic governments around the
Article 5 of the Law which specifies the rights of journalists to
obtain information from the government is criticized for giving relevant
Ministries to much power to deny requests for information. Journalists are given
no recourse to Ministry denial. Appeals to judicial mediation, for example, are
not provided for.
Article 16 regulates the opening of a printing center
or a bookstore. In the absence of the definition of either, ambiguity favors
repression. One international analyst said: "This article is rooted in the
mentality of a police state and should be deleted."
Article 11 mandates
that newspapers must retract any picture, article, text, drawing, or photograph
that any person believes to be defamatory, or which they believe affects their
reputation. The retraction must be published within 15 days and occupy the same
space the offending item did. Critics of the law point out the retraction is
required even if the offending publication published the truth.
press law may represent a threat to foreign owned newspapers and the importation
of Khmer newspapers printed abroad.
Article 17 says: "The publication
and selling of information imported from abroad for the purpose of commerce must
receive permission from the Ministry of Information in advance of its
importation." There is no process to appeal an adverse ruling in the