The Club of Cambodian Journalists thanked Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday night during an annual convention after the premier pledged to the group his commitment to press freedom, just months after nearly 20 radio outlets and the Cambodia Daily were shuttered, and while two former Radio Free Asia journalists are under investigation for allegedly unlawfully sending information abroad to their former employer.
Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, yesterday said Hun Sen’s statement conveyed “a good message”.
“We cannot say that all journalists are arrested and that the government does not respect freedom of the press,” he said, when asked if he really believed the pledges of support for the press.
He added that he should “recognise that there are some problems.
“The political situation affects more or less the freedom of the journalists, but in general, we cannot say that we don’t have freedom of the press.”
In his message to the club, issued Thursday before the annual Editors’ Forum, the premier writes that the press can be a “double-edged weapon” if it fails to follow ethical standards and press laws or if it exaggerates information.
“If the press [goes] beyond the law, by violating the law [the] press really damages democracy, peace and national development,” his message reads. “It also pushes the country to fall into war. The Royal Government of Cambodia will not allow [the press] to be used in an anarchical way by violating the law to launch a ‘colour revolution’ to topple the legal government.”
Ed Legaspi, executive director at the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Press Alliance, said he hopes that Hun Sen means what he says about being committed to freedom of the press, which “the government needs to demonstrate quite urgently”.
“When newspapers are shuttered and radio programmes are forced off the air through rules other than media ethics and professionalism, those are attacks on press freedom by a government that uses technicalities of the law rather than answer the observations of a critical press,” he said.
Over the course of the summer, 19 radio stations that broadcasted Voice of America, RFA or opposition party shows were pulled from the air, ostensibly over licensing issues. Meanwhile, the Cambodia Daily published its final edition in early September after being hit with a $6.3 million tax bill.