Some 20 journalists gathered on Tuesday at the Corner of Media Landscape in a meeting organised by the Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) and the Cambodia Center for Independent Media (CCIM).
The journalists held discussions on the challenges faced in the sector, including the difficulty in obtaining information from government officials and their experience with threats and violence from local authorities.
They also expressed support for amendments to be made to the 1995 Press Law.
Cheng Mengchou, a lecturer at the Department of Media and Communication (DMC) of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said the press law contained loopholes, which restrict journalists’ access to information from government officials.
She explained that currently, an article in the press law states that journalists must submit a letter requesting information from government officials, who then have up to 30 days to respond.
She said: “Why are we still waiting for 30 days to get information from government officials?
“In the era of Facebook and fast information, things have changed and therefore the law should be amended. Journalists will still adhere to professional principles regardless of the timeframe.”
Mengchou also said that articles in the press law concerning security, public order and tradition must be clearly defined to clarify the law and the intentions behind it.
The Ministry of Information, in collaboration with relevant ministries and institutions, is currently in consultation with numerous parties over potential press law amendments.
This came after Prime Minister Hun Sen recently announced that he wants any amendment to the law to be approved within this year.
CCIM director Nop Vy said: “Despite amendments to the law seen in drafts, it still contains a number of articles that are vague enough to allow the government to arbitrarily interpret certain information.
“Therefore, any information it does not agree with they can be deemed in breach of the law, and thus the government can maintain control.
“The law states that journalists are required to request information from government officials, and it will be responded to within 30 days.
“However, there is no article stating that if government officials fail to provide information or even respond, there will be consequences or penalties.
“This may result in the government never providing information, especially important or sensitive ones,” he said.
Ministry of Information spokesperson Meas Sophorn said the press law protects the rights of the press, and media practitioners should cooperate with the authorities when they work.
“Journalists have to work with the relevant ministries and institutions to ensure that the practice of journalism has accuracy,” he said.
Yeang Sothearin, a former journalist for Radio Free Asia, said reporters who carried out sensitive investigations in rural areas were always under the watch of the authorities, who would try to prevent them from carrying out their work, and in some cases even seizing their equipment.
“Open investigation is rarely done in a town. We often take precautions when visiting places so we can ensure our personal safety. The sources who give us information also fear the authorities.
“Police stand around watching who is talking to us. They take note of people who are brave to come forward to provide information.
“If sources are approached by the police or authorities, we find it very difficult to get any real information from them,” he said.