A senior Ministry of Information official refuted a report released by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) which claimed that press freedom in Cambodia in 2021 was worse than in 2020.

Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn said such a report is misleading local and international opinion on media professionalism in Cambodia. He told The Post on March 13 that the report did not take into account or reflect all aspects of the practice of journalism and media professionalism in Cambodia.

“The role of professional journalists and the practice of professional media and broadcasting companies in Cambodia are protected by specific laws which align with the Constitution. With regard to observing these laws, the media – both published and broadcast – have been improving day by day,” he said.

Sophorn’s remarks came in response to a new report released by CCIM and CamboJA on March 10 entitled “Survey Report 2021: Challenges for Independent Media in Cambodia”.

An excerpt from the report said: “With regard to the challenges of independent journalist in 2021, we determined that there was less press freedom in Cambodia than in 2020.”

It said that from January to December 2021, CCIM and CamboJA recorded 51 cases of harassment against 93 journalists, with 32 arrested, 24 facing legal actions and 18 experiencing violence or harassment

“Reporting on sensitive issues is still a grave concern for journalists in Cambodia. The self-censorship among journalists resulting from laws, regulations and the political environment in Cambodia is also a threat to independent media in 2021,” the report said.

The report also highlighted the important role of citizen journalists, who faced similar challenges.

It also listed many recommendations that media or civil society organisations and the government could carry out to improve the situation.

CamboJA executive director Nop Vy said the report shows the challenges that journalists in Cambodia face, both from a legal aspect and in terms of direct threats. He claimed the Criminal Code is still used against journalists. He was also of the view that some other legal tools – such as the National Internet Gateway – are also curtailing press freedom.

He noted some other threats, like news reporting during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen some journalists arrested and some media licences being revoked for reporting the pandemic.

“These challenges require all of us to pay attention – and to respond to and address them – in order to improve the media climate in the Kingdom,” Vy said.

Sophorn disagreed, saying that the media and broadcasting sector in Cambodia is improving remarkably from day to day. Traditional and new media alike are providing quality local and international news.

“The report by CCIM and CamboJA on press freedom in Cambodia clearly has the intention to mislead local and international opinion on media professionalism in Cambodia as well as on the role of journalists in Cambodia,” he said.

He said the alleged threats could not be generalised as an issue of press freedom because they occurred on a case-by-case basis – verbal or physical threats could be just as easily linked to a tense situation which a journalist happened to be covering.

“As we all know, journalists should have full freedom to carry out their work, but when they are reporting on sensitive issue, they occasionally get nervous – especially when reporting on corruption. This nervousness can make a journalist feel like he or she is being threatened,” he said.

He noted that at the end of 2021, there were 787 digital media outlets – an increase of 118 compared to 2020. Traditional media sectors like radio and television also grew. There were around 6,000 local and international journalists in Cambodia.