Among 17 news websites blocked for 48 hours by the Ministry of Information after a request from the National Election Committee (NEC) to “maintain silence” over the weekend of the national elections, according to a ministry official.
The 17 websites – which also included Voice of Democracy, Voice of America (VOD) and Radio Free Asia – were blocked from 12am on Saturday morning to 12am on Monday morning.
“We are very disappointed over the government’s action, especially since we have striven to be fair and neutral in our reporting, giving every opportunity to the government to reply to any allegations made against it."
“We do not see any valid reason for the government’s action,” the executive editor-in-chief of The Phnom Penh Post, Joshua Purushotman, told AEC News Today, a website not affected by the block.
Information and broadcasting director-general at the Ministry of Information Phos Sovann said it was merely following an order from the NEC on what was dubbed “White Day” – a ban on all political activity on Saturday.
“We did this based on the legal principles of the NEC. We closed down the [websites] of local newspapers and radio and television stations on White Day because the NEC ordered us to close them so as to maintain silence so nothing would be broadcast,” he said.
He said the websites the Ministry of Information had blocked were not registered properly at the ministry and had unclear ownership, so it was not possible to give advanced notification, something the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), which runs VOD, called “unconvincing”.
“This explanation is unconvincing since the VOD website has a page that explains its history and being managed by CCIM,” the CCIM said in a report on its website.
“Also, the Ministry of Information has already contacted CCIM and enquired about the VOD website and its Facebook page. CCIM is legally registered with the Ministry of Interior since 2007."
‘Having been adhering to the code of ethics and legal compliance, CCIM considers the blocking of the websites by the government as politically motivated and counterproductive, given the critical circumstance that the people of Cambodia are badly in need of full access to independent media.”
Sovann said that as the Ministry of Information had a responsibility to monitor and control all the news on the Kingdom’s websites, it needed to take measures in accordance with election law as laid out by the NEC.
He added that the blocking of websites at that stage of the election process was not unusual as similar action had been taken by the ministry in previous polls.
CCIM director Nob Vy said he was opposed to the blocking of independent media websites.
“The blockade is a measure that [has] negatively affected journalists’ [ability] to observe the national election process at this time,” he said.
The CCIM said that with the lack of an independent media voice to provide information about the elections, their transparency, openness and fairness would be questioned.