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Journalist union urges end to fake news dissemination

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Journalists on duty at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last year. Heng Chivoan

Journalist union urges end to fake news dissemination

The Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia (UJFC) has called on journalists and social media users to put greater focus on moral and ethical considerations when disseminating information in order to avoid spreading fake news.

In a statement issued on April 1, the UJFC said: “We play a role in our national society. Technology makes the dissemination of information today very easy. But what we are collectively broadcasting as our national image should be given serious thought.

“We should pay greater attention to the pictures and the content that we spread.

“We must ask – is this content useful? Or will it undermine the solidarity of the people, destroy the nation’s reputation or erode our common values?

“Each of us adds our own brush strokes to the canvas as we paint a picture together of our country and when the world sees the result they will judge the worth of our civilisation and our country as a whole based on it.”

There is no clear indication as to why the UJFC issued this statement at this point in time. But it came just one day after the Cambodian Journalist Alliance (CamboJA) issued a report detailing an increase in the number of journalists arrested in 2020 on charges of incitement to commit a felony and extortion.

The CamboJA report characterised the arrests as harassment targeted at journalists who had merely exercised their rights and freedoms by reporting the news.

“Whether someone is in Cambodia or anywhere else in the world, what is important right now is ending the pandemic and journalists should be focused on giving the public the information necessary to accomplish that goal,” the UJFC’s statement emphasised.

It noted that fake news about the pandemic was constantly posted on social media and widely shared and that the Ministry of Information had to revoke the licences of some media outlets for spreading disinformation.

Their statement continued: “Plurality of views is the garden in which democracy grows. But what if the views consist mostly of insults, false rhetoric and poisonous hatred? Then this proliferation of paradigms becomes as harmful to society as any pandemic virus.

“The challenge today does not come from government restriction of press freedoms, but from the exercise of rights and freedoms by journalists and the general public in a morally bankrupt manner that is devoid of all social responsibility,” the statement read, citing as evidence social media posts which cast doubts on the safety of vaccines.

Phos Sovann, the ministry’s information and broadcasting director-general, said officials had identified 192 cases of fake news in March alone.

Such disinformation also contained incitements, criticisms and insults to the nation’s leaders and three media licences were revoked for serious violations of the law, but many of the offenders are not licensed in the first place and hid their identities online.

“The media organisations that are legally registered with the ministry, we can tell them to correct something or to remove any fake news posted to their social media accounts.

“For more general social media accounts that do not register with the ministry, we can only send those cases to the Ministry of Interior or other relevant authorities so they can investigate and take legal action,” Sovann said.

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