The premier’s son Hun Manith and a slew of officials, journalists and others linked to the government or ruling party were given promotions on Friday.
The royal decree, signed by Senate President and Cambodian People’s Party Vice President Say Chhum and dated September 29, grants Manith, who is also the head of military intelligence, a position as deputy cabinet chief and the rank of secretary of state.
It also appoints 29 other “advisers” to Prime Minister Hun Sen, including Pankhem Bunthan, executive director of the Youth Federation of Senaneak, who in October 2015 was seen leading a protest outside the National Assembly that resulted in two opposition lawmakers being brutally assaulted.
“I will try to work harder than before to serve the nation,” he said yesterday. Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said Manith and all those named were promoted for their “personal qualities”, deflecting questions about the move being perceived as nepotistic.
“Do not mention about the nepotism . . . because there are a lot of people who have been promoted,” he said.
Huy Vannak, an undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Interior and media adviser for the Cambodian Broadcasting Service – which includes the television stations CTN, CNC and MyTV, among others – said he was not surprised by the appointment of journalists, which include employees of government broadcaster TVK, the ruling party’s channel Apsara TV and similarly pro-government outlets.
“The prime minister promotes those who work hard, and are quality staff,” he said.
The promotions from the pro-government media come hot on the heels of a government clampdown on the independent press. Several independent broadcast outlets and the critical Cambodia Daily newspaper have been shuttered in recent weeks. At the same time, government mouthpiece Fresh News has expanded into online radio, and the Ministry of Interior has launched its own new television station, Nice TV.
According to Vannak, who is also the president of the Union of Journalists Federation of Cambodia, many on the list “wear two hats”, working both for the government and for private broadcasters, like CNC personality and military officer Chan Darun.
Asked whether it was appropriate for journalists – even those working for public broadcasters – to accept positions working with the premier, he said that comparing Western ethical standards for journalistic independence to those in Cambodia is “like if you compared a student in primary school to a PhD candidate”.
Noting that he was once a reporter, government spokesman Phay Siphan said that he thought any journalist accepting such a position gave up their professional credibility.
“The public will see them no longer as professional journalists. They became state employees,” he said.
Siphan said that he had no concerns about the country being perceived as lacking independent journalists – which he believes never existed, to begin with.
“I believe that there are no such independent journalists in Cambodia, but there are so many professional, ethical and credible journalists,” he said.