The ministries of Information; Interior; and Posts and Telecommunications are increasing efforts to work with Facebook to weed out fake news causing disorder in the Kingdom in the wake of misinformation regarding the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Information and broadcasting director-general Phos Sovann said on Wednesday that the ministries are now collaborating with Facebook to manage and get rid of websites and Facebook users who spread fake news to cause social chaos.

“Our relevant ministries have collaborated with Facebook. The company tells us that if any websites or Facebook account users commit wrongdoing, it will allow us to report the case to it to delete the fake news.

“If websites or Facebook account users still spread the same fake news, we will request Facebook to delete the website or Facebook accounts,” he said.

He said the ministries have identified 50 pieces of fake news to analyse and those behind them will first be educated and then punished if they continue spreading misinformation.

Next week, the Ministry of Information will call on Facebook broadcasters who have no code of ethics or professionalism to attend classes, he noted.

Sovann said the dissemination of fake news regarding the challenges in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak led to heated arguments in Cambodian society. He said the dissemination of fake news had caused the division.

“We will instruct those posting fake news for the first time like lecturing a child. We will talk to them first, but if they turn a deaf ear to our instruction, we will use measures to mete out some punishment; the authorities will surely take legal action,” he said.

He also noted that most of the websites and Facebook users spreading fake news are based outside the country, making it difficult to take action against them. However, he said the Ministry of Information would collaborate with Facebook in such instances.

Concerning journalists who disseminate information unprofessionally on Facebook, Sovann said the Ministry of Information would educate and train them next week.

“We depend on professional journalists. If they come across those who disseminate information unethically and unprofessionally, please help provide such information to us. Sometimes, there is a group of spurious information disseminators, but our ministry didn’t get that information,” he said.

CamboJA, an association working to protect the rights of journalists, on Monday released a statement expressing deep concern over journalists using social media to disseminate information without adhering to professionalism or the code of ethics.

CamboJA requested the government and relevant authorities to instruct unprofessional journalists on how to do their jobs ethically rather than take legal action against them.

“In a democracy, journalists play an important role in monitoring lacking points in society to drive social progress, sustainability, equality and social justice,” the statement said.

CamboJA said shortcomings, lacklustre performance and failing to adhere to a code of ethics should not be considered a crime fit for legal punishment.

The association’s statement followed comments made about fake news measures by Prime Minister Hun Sen during a press conference last week.

“We must adopt better education measures rather than harsh legal action ... taking measures does not mean prisons and chains,” Hun Sen said.

CamboJA’s executive director May Titthara hailed Hun Sen’s remark. “They [unprofessional journalists] need education related to the profession and ethics rather than legal action against them,” he stressed.