T HE State Secretary for Information told the Post that he was misunderstood at a
recent symposium on the press law organized by the UN Field Office for Human
Khieu Kanharith was quoted as saying that the new press law
envisaged by the Royal Government would allow the Information Ministry and the
Interior Ministry to suspend publication and distribution without a court
At the meeting it was unclear whether Kanharith was referring to
the new law or the old law passed by the State of Cambodia
Kanharith made it clear that he was referring to the old law in
He said: "I was misunderstood. I did not intend to talk about
the new law."
He added: "There are some people who will be surprised by
the law. There are some in the Council of Ministers who want a very liberal
The Minister of Information Ieng Mouly has maintained that
Cambodia's press law will be one of the most liberal in the world. Mouly is on
the Council of Ministers.
Kanharith's apparent comments at the seminar
provoked an outpouring of protest from Cambodian journalists. The Khmer
Journalists'Association held a press conference coming down strongly on the side
of an unregulated press.
As he went to Battambang and Pailin in the week
after the symposium, and then to the Thai border, the issue remained
A review of the tapes of the symposium by the UN Field Office
did not resolve the problem, as the tape player malfunctioned during the
comments which arose during the question and answer period, and the UN
interpreter left the room to correct the problem.
The Post has learned
that the main adherent of a strong press law in the Council of Ministers is the
Minister of Justice, Chem Snguon. As the operation of the Council of Ministers
is not regulated by organic law, it is unclear how difficult questions like the
content of Cambodia's press law are resolved. So far differences of opinion in
the Council of Ministers has resulted in stalemate, as it appears to have done
with the Press Law.
The strongest argument that members of the government
have made is that the Cambodian press has displayed a level of incompetence that
demands government regulation. The most recent example of this, members of the
government say, was that of the editor of the Morning News that claimed that the
governor of Svay Reang had been in a car theft ring.
The editor, Nguon
Nun was held for two days, and reportedly admitted to having no evidence for his
claims other than hearsay.
The Khmer Journalists' Association grants that
the level of competence in the Khmer Press is low, but they argue that strict
regulation of the press by the government is not the answer.
Sihanouk has joined the side of the Khmer journalists. He has advised the press
should be given a wide latitude .