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Gov't lays down law over TV year wrap-up

Gov't lays down law over TV year wrap-up

A MINISTRY of Information threat to expel a Canadian television journalist from the

country on charges of overly negative reporting remained unresolved at Post press

time as King Norodom Sihanouk and press groups pressured the government to drop its

complaint.

"If it is possible for the sake of democracy we should pardon this foreign corespondent,"

the King said of Asia Business News (ABN) reporter Ed Fitzgerald in a letter to the

two Prime Ministers.

Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith, who said he planned to revoke

Fitzgerald's visa for his portrayal of Cambodia in an ABN "Year in Review' special,

later claimed he needed more time to discuss the situation with Hun Sen and Ung Huot.

"I haven't received the fax from the King yet and I'm waiting for a call from

the two Prime Ministers," Khieu Kanharith said.

Kanharith was to present the Council of Ministers on Dec 31 with a report on the

situation and the current press law, but the meeting was delayed.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also appealed to Hun Sen and

Ung Huot to "stop the harassment of Ed Fitzgerald" in a Dec 29 letter.

"Threats against the media, whether general or specific, have a chilling effect

on the climate for free expression in Cambodia," the group wrote. "We believe

it is in the interests of all Cambodians to allow the press, both foreign and local,

to do its job without fear or threat of reprisals of any kind."

Canadian Embassy chargé d'affaires Chris Cooter said Dec 29 that he had met

with Foreign Ministry officials to discuss Fitzgerald's case. "We had a friendly

meeting and we will see where it goes," he said.

Fitzgerald, 50, has been reporting on Cambodia since 1988 and has lived in Phnom

Penh since 1992. "I stand by my work," he said of the ABN piece. "Criticism

is an integral part of a democracy. If you disagree with a reporter's piece, write

a letter to the editor."

After accusing some foreign journalists the previous week of becoming mouthpieces

for resistance forces loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the Information Ministry

drafted a letter for the expulsion of Fitzgerald after the ABN 30-minute news special

aired Dec 25 and 26. The letter has not been delivered.

Khieu Kanharith has taken issue with Fitzgerald's portrayal of the Cambodian courts

and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's recent meeting with Khmer Nation Party president

Sam Rainsy.

The special depicts the returning Rainsy as bending to the political agenda of Hun

Sen and hints the opposition figure may be the next political leader to accept the

Second Prime Minister's defacto rule of Cambodia.

The special also heavily criticized the Phnom Penh Municipal Court's trial of KNP

security chief Srun Vong Vannak in September on charges of murdering the brother-in-law

of Hun Sen.

Reporting that the trial judge took more than 25 minutes to read a neatly typed,

six-page verdict after retiring to his chambers for only 10 minutes, the ABN piece

concluded that the outcome of the trial was decided before it started.

"There was no justice in this courtroom on that day," Fitz-gerald reported

in the special.

It is not the first time criticism against Cambodia's courts has provoked a strong

reaction in Phnom Penh - the most memorable response being the March 30 grenade attack

on a Sam Rainsy-led demonstration against the judiciary.

The attackers killed at least 16 protesters before escaping, some with the apparent

help of Hun Sen's personal bodyguards. A Ministry of Interior investigation led to

no arrests.

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