With the Ministry of Information scheduled to meet to discuss a draft of the long-awaited Access to Information Law today, numerous journalists at a forum on Monday voiced concerns about vague wording they say could render the law ineffective or, worse, a cudgel against the press.
Monday’s forum, organised by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), was part of a series aimed at critiquing the draft law, which has been released on a dedicated Ministry of Information website. CCIM is a member of the technical working group that will discuss the law today.
Nop Vy, president of Voice of Democracy, which is an arm of CCIM, said yesterday that many journalists are worried about the wording of some parts of the law, particularly those pertaining to “public order” and confidentiality.
In the law’s current form, violating public order is defined as disclosing information that “will lead to confusion, turmoil and violence that cause social instability and disorder”.
“Confidential information”, meanwhile, is simply defined as “information that public institutions cannot disclose to applicants”. A further clarification notes it is any information that may threaten “stability”.
The journalists at Monday’s forum, Vy said, worried that the clauses had been vaguely defined expressly to allow government officials to withhold information and punish journalists. “It sounds very general; government officials can use it how they want,” Vy said.
“They worry that the government sector will use that article to reject information that the journalists require,” he said in reference to the confidentiality clause.
“Some journalists raised concerns about legal consequences regarding the public order section . . . government officials can use it to file a complaint against journalists,” Vy added.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, head of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said the criticisms of the law were a “serious concern”.
“Even the best law can be manipulated, let alone a law that does not meet the standards of international law,” he said.
In a Facebook post earlier this month, CCIM said the law comes with “regulations and legal punishments, creating an atmosphere of fear”, and called it a “major threat to freedom of expression and freedom of press”.
Ouk Kimseng, spokesman for the Ministry of Information, maintained yesterday that these concerns will be discussed in the meeting today.
“We will try to reach a kind of wording that is acceptable to all … to minimise this kind of concern.”