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Kanharith backs off in press law row

Kanharith backs off in press law row

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

Rights.

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

order.

At the meeting it was unclear whether Kanharith was referring to

the new law or the old law passed by the State of Cambodia

regime.

Kanharith made it clear that he was referring to the old law in

the speech.

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

law."

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

unresolved.

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.

King

Sihanouk has joined the side of the Khmer journalists. He has advised the press

should be given a wide latitude .

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