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Intimidation of local journalists a ‘fact of life’

Intimidation of local journalists a ‘fact of life’

Photo by Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith speaks about the situation of press freedom in Cambodia on World Press Freedom Day, which was marked yesterday.

The view of press freedom from the capital’s Imperial Hotel yesterday was decidedly rosier than the one provided by an international watchdog group whose latest report reveals that restrictions on the Kingdom’s news media did not ease in 2011.

Freedom House’s annual index on the state of the press in the world’s 197 countries and territories awarded Cambodia a score of 63 on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 the most repressive.

Speaking on World Press Freedom Day, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith yesterday painted a generally upbeat portrait of the situation, but mentioned the recent trend of faux-journalists who have been nabbed for using the title as a means of extortion.

“We saw there has been the arrest of news reporters who are not real professionals,” he said.

Impersonating reporters, however, did not factor in Cambodia’s Freedom House rating.

The figure is the same as the year before and puts Cambodia in 144th place, a dead heat with Pakistan, where the Committee to Protect Journalists says 19 reporters have been murdered with impunity since 2002. Cambodia, however, did not make CPJ’s recent list of the 10 most-censored countries.

Asked by the Post if she thought Cambodia’s low ranking was justified, opposition parliamentarian Mu Sochua said of course it was.

“There are so many issues that aren’t covered,” she said. “There aren’t normal journalists in Cambodia, because they’re afraid.

“Look for a truly investigative journalist, a local one – it’s almost impossible to find. They know the cost.”

Government spokesman Ek Tha, of the Council of Ministers Press and Quick Reaction Unit, disputed Freedom House’s low ranking, saying the group was sticking with “the old story”.

“I do not agree with them. They overlooked a lot of positive changes in Cambodia,” the one-time Reuters journalist said. “If you look at the situation on the ground . . . we have dozens of newspapers. We have a number of television channels. We have several radio channels in English and Khmer. We do not have any internet censorship or media restriction in Cambodia.”

The Freedom House report didn’t provide analysis of Cambodia’s rating, but local journalists and media-watchers said yesterday intimidation or self-censorship when writing about subjects such as illegal logging and people-smuggling was a fact of life.

“Reporters also tend to shy from topics that insinuate divisions or factionalism inside the CPP or stories that question the integrity of Hun Sen’s leadership,” Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said.

Crispin noted that the un-solved 2008 murder of Cambodian newspaper reporter Khim Sambo and his son “still hangs like a Sword of Damocles over Cambodia’s press”.

In a recent study of media harassment from the end of 2007 to December of last year, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights found more than 100 allegations of abuse, including violence and censorship, confiscation of private property and the threat, or use, of legal action.

Finland, Norway and Sweden shared the top slot in the Freedom House analysis, while North Korea brought up the rear with a rating of 97.

Regionally, a number of positive developments were attributed to Burma. Political reforms, decreasing reports of attacks against journalists and the return of exiled journalists, among other factors, brought the country down to 85 from a previous rating of 94.

To take the pulse of the media in each country, Freedom House looks at the legal environment in which media operate, political influences, information access and economic pressures on the dissemination of news.


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