The Ministry of Information has warned of legal action against individuals who spread fake news amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The warning came as the ministry and Government Spokesperson Unit issued statements in response to the spread of fake news related to the government’s efforts to combat Covid-19. It also came after rumours spread that Prime Minister Hun Sen will declare a state of emergency if the Covid-19 situation worsens.

Information ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn told The Post on December 8 that the ministry had always urged journalists to obey the laws and regulations and to adhere to professional ethics.

“The ministry has observed that while a majority of media outlets and journalists adhere to professional ethics, a handful have acted against the law, ethics and professionalism, prompting the ministry to issue the warning,” he said.

Sophorn warned that if the small number of journalists continue to act unprofessionally, the ministry and relevant institutions would take action that may lead to the suspension or termination of a publishing licence.

Also, if an offence constitutes a crime, the ministry will take action by examining the facts and the law in each case.

The ministry said some journalists had accepted bribes in exchange for not publishing or deleting information, which is a serious violation of professional ethics.

To eliminate the unethical acts of unprofessional journalists, and in the case of any person affected by the mentioned issues, the ministry supports the person to exercise their rights by the law and request the authorities to take legal action without advance notice to the information ministry.

Separately, the Government Spokesperson Unit on December 7 issued a statement that recently observed that some people have fabricated and disseminated fake news to incite panic among the public on the spread of Covid-19.

Dissemination of this fake news comes at a time when the government and relevant authorities at all levels, together with the people nationwide, have been collaborating to prevent the community transmission of Covid-19.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said some people had taken content from ethically published news, fabricated the facts and shared them as fake news.

Citing an example, he said after Hun Sen announced not to close Phnom Penh or any other area to contain Covid-19 community transmissions, some people spread fakes news that the prime minister announced a lockdown.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen stated clearly that he had prepared a letter to the King, but it would only be used in case of emergency, when the situation cannot be controlled,” he said.

Siphan also rejected claims by some political activists that said the government had used the Covid-19 situation to persecute former members of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said journalists have an important role to play in engaging with stakeholders in disseminating factual information to the public about Covid-19.

He said journalists should do their best to spread the truth so that the people will not be panic and scared.

“If journalists or Facebook users post misinformation and mislead people and society, I think it is a big mistake that we should all reconsider. In this regard, the statement of the information ministry and the Government Spokesperson Unit is warranted,” Bona said.

“For professional journalists, there is no problem. But there are some unprofessional individuals who claim to be journalists, always spreading [fake] news, causing social chaos,” he added.