Government mouthpiece Fresh News released a 700-page collection of open letters, commentary and political analysis, spinning Cambodia’s recent political crackdown into a successful prevention of “colour revolution”.
The book – titled Political Analysis Articles – is on sale for $2 and covers the political situation in Cambodia beginning with Sam Rainsy’s resignation from the Cambodia National Rescue Party in February 2017, and continuing until the forced dissolution of the CNRP in November.
The period has been seen as the harshest crackdown on political and civil freedoms in years. In September, opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested on widely decried allegations of “treason”, prompting a mass exodus of opposition figures from the country. Since then, civil society organisations have reported increased scrutiny, numerous independent media outlets have shuttered and reporters have been charged with “espionage”.
However, the first page of Fresh News’s book features a shot of Prime Minister Hun Sen surrounded by adoring supporters, cheering and waving Cambodian flags. One audience member lifts a portrait of the premier.
“At all costs, we have to protect the peace and development that Cambodia has achieved,” reads a quote attributed to Hun Sen under the photo.
On the following page, a paragraph declares “the political organisation leading the colour revolution was dissolved”.
In a preface, Fresh News CEO Lim Cheavuth praises the media’s role in covering the political situation, and mocks Sokha over a 2013 video in which he described receiving support from America – a video that has formed the basis of his “treason case”.
“He revealed these things to the public himself in order to attract attention of those living abroad,” Cheavutha said, adding that Sokha’s speech was “a joke” and a “boast”.
Cheavutha’s preface goes on to say that “the news media plays an important role in providing true news to the public”.
But Rainsy, a focal point of the book, said Fresh News’s coverage of him and the opposition at large has been “anything but fair”.
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, noted that Fresh News’s role was perhaps more important in shaping the news than it was in delivering it.
Saying that Fresh News is “intimately entwined” with those in power in Cambodia, Strangio said its goal is to “drip” information into Cambodian society in the hope of “transforming the conversation”.
Far from playing a passive role, the outlet often published anonymous allegations that have resulted in legal action against government foes.
One of the “analysis” pieces published in the book is a conspiracy theory floated by author “Kon Khmer” – or “Khmer Child” – alleging that a US-funded NGO was involved in a plot to overthrow the government. The organisation – the National Democratic Institute – was expelled from the country shortly after.
Another article suggested redistributing the CNRP’s National Assembly seats to minor parties after its dissolution. The suggestion subsequently became law.
Strangio said rather than producing journalism, Fresh News has always been the “stenographer of the Cambodian government”.
Strangio went on to note that most of Fresh News’s articles are unsourced, or simply transcriptions of speeches by government officials.
“They don’t really do journalism,” he said.