A senior Cambodian diplomat expressed “deep regret” that three UN special rapporteurs have called for the reinstatement of VOD’s media licence so that the online news outlet – which published in both Khmer and English and also produced radio programmes prior to its closure – can continue its operations.

The UN experts said that free and independent media is “critical” ahead of the national election this coming July.

The call for the licence reinstatement for VOD, which was overseen by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM), came on February 20 from Vitit Muntarbhorn, special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

“We are alarmed by the revocation of [VOD’s] licence without due process and with immediate effect in the run-up to the crucial national election in July this year,” they said in a joint statement.

The trio of UN special rapporteurs said the revocation leaves “virtually no free media outlets operating in the country” because “VOD was one of Cambodia’s last remaining independent media outlets”.

They called on the Cambodian authorities to review the legality of the revocation with immediate effect, saying the world is watching Cambodia ahead of the July election.

In Dara, Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN Offices in Geneva, rebuffed their concerns and call for licence reinstatement.

“It is with deep regret that three special rapporteurs have subscribed to a biased and prejudiced narrative as to the nature of a foreign-funded radio broadcaster in the Kingdom,” he said in a statement on February 22.

Dara said that administrative action taken against a rule-breaking entity does not merit any concern at all.

“What should be alarming is this mounting disinformation campaign filled with intentional slander, which is condemned by the law in every country,” he said.

He said VOD had engaged in spreading fake news and fabricating information on Cambodia’s internal affairs, most recently about Cambodia’s humanitarian assistance delivery to quake-hit Turkiye.

He added that the special rapporteur’s “biased remarks” purposefully overlooked an “indisputable fact” that the CCIM and VOD “grossly breached the

professional code of ethics for journalism and harmed the honour and prestige of the Cambodian government”, and then refused to correct its mistakes.

“To allege that administrative measures leave no free media outlets operating in the country is unfounded and highly political. Freedom of expression and media remains alive and dynamic,” he added.

The ambassador said that ordinary people are being empowered through their unhindered access to mobile internet at the lowest cost in the region.

He noted that their voices are further amplified by the robust presence of nearly 2,000 digital and traditional media outlets, including critical ones, which enjoy a government-endorsed “guarantee of source confidentiality and no censorship”.

“A purported ‘independent’ status is not a licence to break the law with impunity nor to evade responsibility and accountability. This legitimate move against an unprofessional media outlet does not undermine the vibrant press freedom in the Kingdom, but contributes to the strengthening of the profession of journalism,” he said.

He stressed that Cambodia advocates for responsible professional journalism, which neither violates the rights of others nor twists the facts, and that it is committed to holding the upcoming national election in a free, fair and just manner so that the outcome is fully reflective of the people’s will.