OFFICIALS from the Ministry of Information met yesterday with their Thai counterparts in Phnom Penh, emphasising the need for media outlets to report accurately and avoid fanning the flames of the border dispute.
The meeting came just weeks after Cambodia and Thailand returned their respective ambassadors and restored full diplomatic ties following the rift over Phnom Penh’s appointment of fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economics adviser. Thaksin, wanted in
Thailand on graft charges, resigned from the position last month.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that as the countries work to repair their frayed relationship, their media must avoid needlessly stoking nationalistic passions.
“I appreciate the mature attitude of media from the two countries who don’t publish reports that will cause hatefulness or racism among the populations of the two countries, even though we’ve had problems in diplomacy,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Media outlets have often played a contentious role in Thai-Cambodian relations. In 2003, rioters burned down the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh following a false report, cited in a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen, that a Thai actress had claimed the famed Angkor Wat temple complex belonged to Thailand.
More recently, Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper quoted Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as saying last month that Bangkok would consider “both diplomatic and military means” to solve the disagreement with Cambodia over a patch of land adjacent to Preah Vihear temple. Hun Sen cited this quotation in a letter to the president of the United Nations Security Council, calling it an “obvious threat”.
Officials in Bangkok, however, later said that Abhisit’s statements had been misquoted and taken out of context, citing Thailand’s commitment to a 2000 Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia that provides for peaceful demarcation of the border.
“We want to solve these problems peacefully, without the use of force,” Abhisit said last month, according to the Bangkok Post.
Moeun Chhean Narridh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said reporters had a responsibility to carefully handle the “very sensitive and delicate” issues at the centre of the Thai-Cambodian conflict. He said he worried about the tendency of news outlets in both countries to trade in inflated nationalism and war-mongering.
“The media has a role to not take sides and avoid conflict,” he said.
Ongart Klampaiboon, Abhisit’s Office Minister and the leader of the visiting delegation, said dubious media reports on the dispute were a continuing problem. On Wednesday, Ongart said, several Thai media outlets incorrectly reported that Hun Sen had backed out of a proposed meeting with Abhisit at an international summit scheduled for next month in Belgium.
But just as news outlets need to be discerning in their reporting, officials from the two countries should be discrete in their communications with one another, Moeun Chhean Narridh said, and avoid doing diplomacy through the media.
“The government should not rely on the media as statements representing any side,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE