Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the Ministry of Information to revoke the licence of VOD, after the online media outlet failed to apologise for publishing an “intentionally slanderous” article regarding Cambodia’s recent relief assistance to quake-hit Turkiye.

Hun Sen made the decision on the evening of February 12, the same day he gave VOD – which also produces radio programmes and publishes in both English and Khmer – 24 hours to issue a public apology or face a shutdown. He first gave the outlet 72 hours to verify facts with the information ministry and to apologise if the report was proved to be false.

The revocation order came after VOD, which is overseen by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM), wrote a letter to Hun Sen through his cabinet, expressing “regret” about confusions caused by the article and requesting his tolerance.

“Are the words ‘regret’ and ‘tolerance’ [used in VOD’s letter] interchangeable with ‘apology’? I cannot accept it,” Hun Sen said.

The premier has instructed government spokesman Phay Siphan to look into the possibility of taking legal action and ordered that VOD cease its publication and broadcast by 10am on February 13.

The VOD report centred around the signing of a government decision to donate $100,000 to Turkiye – formerly spelled Turkey – following a massive earthquake.

It claimed that Lieutenant General Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and future prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), had signed it on behalf of his father Hun Sen.

Hun Sen’s demands for a public apology to “eliminate confusion” came after VOD published the February 9 article titled “Government official says Hun Manet’s acting in an official role on behalf of his father in delivering assistance to [Turkiye] was not improper”.

The article claimed to have quoted a government spokesman as saying that Manet’s playing of the role on his behalf of his father in signing to donate funds to quake-hit Turkiye was not wrong because Prime Minister Hun Sen was overseas.

The same article also cited some political observers who said that by law, an acting prime minister or a deputy prime minister shall discharge this duty in the absence of the prime minister.

Responding to the article, Hun Sen said in a February 11 social media post that VOD had intentionally slandered not just Manet but also the entire government.

“Is the accusation against Hun Manet a political attack or confusion? I give VOD 72 hours to make a public apology to the government and Manet,” Hun Sen warned in an earlier post before issuing a new ultimatum on the morning of February 12.

“We don’t want anything but honesty and fairness. Please don’t say that we’ve threatened them. Their rights are limited only at the point where the rights of other people begin. Before foreign friends or civil society groups make comments, please research this case first, including the facts and the laws,” he stated.

Back on February 11, Manet requested that VOD show proof in the form of any document that he had signed for Cambodia’s recent relief assistance to Turkiye on behalf of his father.

“I looked into the matter and looked for the relevant documents, but found only the press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation without anyone’s signature on it. If VOD had no documents and published incorrect information, please apologise and correct the information and publish it urgently so that the public does not get confused. I want nothing more than to protect the principles of fairness and clarity,” he stated.

Pa Sokheng, the reporter for VOD Khmer who wrote the article, said on February 11: “I only wrote this because it was confirmed by the head of the Government’s Spokesperson Unit, Phay Siphan. However, I will wait for further discussion from the institution to see how things unfold.”

In response on February 12, Siphan said: “I did not say that, not one word. Let [VOD] provide some evidence that I said that Hun Manet had signed this assistance.”

In a February 11 statement, the Government Spokesperson Unit said: “The information that [Manet] signed the assistance document was made up by journalists and has no real sources. Therefore, this information – which was disseminated by VOD and only VOD – is rumours and fake.”

It requested that VOD and other media outlets which disseminated the information issue corrections.