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UN rights representative calls for press information law

THE local representative of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday called on the government to draft and pass a law that would grant journalists greater access to official information.

During a conference at the National Institute of Education marking World Press Freedom Day, which was Monday, Christophe Peschoux said such an act would complement the recently passed Anticorruption Law, and that it would assist civil society groups in their efforts to “hold public officials accountable for the use of public resources”.

“How can a doctor treat a patient if he or she does not have accurate information about his or her health?” Peschoux said. “And how can a journalist perform his duty to inform the public about an issue if he does not have accurate information?”

Nou Sovathero, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, reiterated comments made Monday by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, emphasising that the government supports journalists. He contrasted Cambodia’s stance towards journalists with that of Thailand, which he described as repressive.

“Currently, the government supports the information sector, while the Thai government has banned electronic media such as radio, television and websites that serve the policies of the group of Red Shirt protesters,” Nou Sovathero said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said after Tuesday’s conference that the type of law called for by Peschoux and other rights workers is not likely to come to pass, and that the government would perhaps instead simply appoint spokespeople for all government ministries.

The government will “have a spokesperson for all ministers, and those spokesmen will give information for the ministries”, he said. “That will happen. That is what the government means by freedom of information.”

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