From the start of 2020 through the end of the first semester of this year, the Ministry of Information has documented the publication of 4,657 fake news articles online and 170 of those cases were serious enough to merit being brought to the attention of the relevant legal authorities for further investigation and possible legal action, according to ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn.
Sophorn disclosed these figures on September 1 at a press conference called to highlight the achievements of his ministry over the past five years.
He said in 2020, the government issued an inter-ministerial prakas intended to combat fake news, and placed three ministries are in charge of different parts of the work involved: Interior, information and telecommunications/posts.
The prakas was aimed at preventing the spread of fake news online due to the damage it can cause to the national interest.
According to the prakas, the three ministries agreed to divide all tasks according to their ministry’s authority under the law. While one ministry is in charge of initiating legal procedures, others are in charge of monitoring news sources and recording any suspected fake news contents.
“Fake news is powerful and affects the lives of the people, our national interest and our national dignity, in ways that can have a lasting negative impact on our society. Recently, fake news about environmental destruction has been spreading and affecting the lives of people and hurting society,” he said.
Sophorn explained that some of the fake news contents shared on social media were actually just something completely invented by the author as if it were fiction, while some others were based on real events but portrayed them misleadingly or twisted whatever occurred into insults against important public figures in the Kingdom.
Nop Vy, director of the Cambodia Journalist Alliance (CamboJA) said that he had always noted the existence online of a great deal of fake news, though the general public still has a limited understanding about fake news or how to identify it.
“Sometimes we see that people just share fake news stories without knowing that it isn’t real. So we need to continue to educate our people and raise awareness about this to enable our people to participate in this effort by reducing the amount of fake news they can be tricked by or end up sharing,” he said.
The information ministry said that in the last five years they have issued 2,154 licences for media institutions in the Kingdom.
The ministry also issued 10,033 press passes to local and international reporters over the past five years in order to help them do their jobs responsibly by attending and reporting using officially sanctioned access to important conferences, meetings or events.
Meanwhile, Sophorn said that press freedoms in Cambodia are equally enjoyed by all reporters no matter who they might work for and without discrimination against their political tendencies, which seemed to him especially irrelevant at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said that some people criticised the government and claimed that it was not permitting reporters to cover stories in the quarantined and locked down red zones at the time, but in all actuality the ministry allowed over 1,000 reporters to cover the news from the lockdown areas with direct access.
He said the purpose of giving reporters this permission despite the dangers of the situation was so that journalists could exercise their press freedoms and bring news to the public and that no major news outlets in Cambodia went out of business during the pandemic restrictions period, which he said was at least partly thanks to the special status accorded to many reporters.
Sophorn concluded by saying that the achievements of the last five years at the information ministry also included the drafting of new legal provisions, management of the sustained growth of the entire media sector and strengthening and expanding media relations with other countries and development partners.