The decision by the Cambodian Ministry of Information not to expel Asia Business
News correspondent Ed Fitzgerald is welcome. Although I have never seen any of Ed's
work, and thus cannot comment on its quality nor on the Cambodian authorities' reasons
for taking offense, I have frequently talked with Ed on my visits to Phnom Penh in
recent years, and have found him to be one of the most reasonable of all the Western
journalists writing about Cambodia.
In fact some of the favorable news about post-July incident Cambodia in my article
in the Bangkok Nation of 18 November ("Flip side view of Cambodia's woes")
came from Ed, and my criticism there of the foreign press crowd in Phnom Penh was
not intended against him. He has always appeared to me to be a laudable exception.
It would have been grotesque to expel Ed while leaving the self-focused coterie who
seem to spend their time searching for and spreading negative and hostile stories
about the CPP side of the Cambodian government. Not that I think they should be expelled
instead, for I support the idea of a press free enough to accommodate even the most
nitwit and uninformed elucubrations, provided, of course, that, as in the best European
democracies, appeals to violence and racism are not permitted.
Many of the Khmer papers which have been in trouble would have been in violation
of the press laws in most of western Europe for just those reasons, in particular
the papers of the Ranariddh-Rainsy-pro Khmer Rouge camp.
We should welcome Ed's declaration that he will provide space to accommodate more
discussion with representatives of the Cambodian government, so that both points
of view may be heard and read. Nevertheless, a remark which one report attributed
to Ed, "if you don't like something, you write a letter to the editor"
is much too superficial, even flippant.
Of course, one may always write letters to editors, but the right to do that does
not guarantee press freedom nor the presentation of all points of view. Editors are
not obliged to print letters, they may doctor length (say, 300 words against a 3000-word
article), or they may doctor letters which they print in order to take out the sting.
This is part of press freedom and press censorship in the capitalist world.
My own experience with doctored letters has been in the Far Eastern Economic Review,
The Guardian Weekly, Problems of Communism, Christian Science Monitor, and Commentary.
I am happy to say that within Southeast Asia, neither the Bangkok Post nor the Nation,
nor the Phnom Penh Post, has doctored any of my letters, although, of course, they
did not print all of them.
The two most recent refusals to print by the Phnom Penh Post were (1) a short response
to a long, hysterical screed directed against me personally in the Post 6/23, 21
Nov-4 Dec 1997, page 10 and (2) an effort to rectify an error alleged by Nate Thayer
in my article about his work in the Post 6/17, 29 Aug-11 Sept, page 11 and in the
Nation of 27 Sept ("A non-standard view of the 'coup'", and "The real
story of Cambodia cries out to be told", respectively). The Nation did publish
this letter of rectification, "Real story of Cambodia", 17 Nov. In it I
explained that according to Thayer, he had sent the same text to both the Far Eastern
Economic Review and the Washington Post, and thus the deviousness about which I had
complained was the work of the Washington Post, not of Nate himself. Did the Phnom
Penh Post refuse to publish because Michael Hayes did not believe that?
I will check this out with Ed Fitzgerald the next time I'm in Phnom Penh.
- Michael Vickery, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.
(Editor replies: The first chit Dr. Vickery gave the Post was not published due to
logistical problems of having to re-layout the page, for which there was neither
time nor energy. It could have been run in the next issue but Hayes lost the chit
on his neatly organized desk. The second letter, for whatever reasons, was never