Cambodia's government media mouthpiece, the Press and Quick Reaction Unit, has been under the careful tuition of comrades from the People’s Republic of China on dealing with deceptive foreigner reporters, the unit reported this week.
But government sources were silent yesterday on what exactly the Council of Ministers’ PRU had been learning from the communist state, which is ranked 174th on the 179-country Press Freedom Index.
The PRU reported that it was engaged in a fruitful exercise with China to help “mitigate negative impacts of foreign dissemination of misinformation and disinformation on government policies as well as the foreign allegations levelled against Cambodia and China.”
Sources from the PRU yesterday either said they didn’t know the details of the training or declined to comment.
A summary of the media knowledge exchange described China assisting the PRU in dealing with “bad reporting whether through traditional media or the emerging social media” and bringing balance to reporting.
PRU chief Svay Sitha met with the Minister of State at China’s State Council Information Office, Wang Chen, to swap ideas about presenting the “realities of their respective countries” and “values cherished by their respective people” in a media landscape “dominated by foreign media,” the summary states.
China’s strategy for balanced reporting has been blasted by rights groups, who say it keeps traditional and new media on a tight leash to avoid any challenges to political authority.
Watchdogs say journalists face harassment and prison terms and are consequently pressured into self-censorship, a prospect that has caused rumblings at the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
This Chinese model, in which journalists are routinely imprisoned, newspapers strictly controlled by the state and access to Google blocked, is not the best model for the PRU to be following, media observers say.
Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media, said the government already had trouble understanding principles of freedom of the press.
“It may be negative if they follow the Chinese system. China … does not have a good record for freedom of the press.”
Pen Samithy, editor-in-chief of Reaksmey Kampuchea and director of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said exchanging ideas was one thing, but accepting them another.
“I don’t mean they cannot exchange their views with China, but the best way is to exchange ideas with countries that have good democracies.”
He said mistakes were inevitable in the English-language press because of inaccurate translations, but corrections were adequate rectification.