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Lawsuits alarm media

Lawsuits alarm media

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Cambodian journalists express concern at the spate of suits filed by government officials over allegations of disinformation

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TRACEY SHELTON

Participants at a Wednesday conference to promote professionalism and ethics in media.

NEARLY 50 Khmer-language print and broadcast journalists voiced concern Wednesday about what they described as a sharp increase in criminal lawsuits filed by government lawyers alleging disinformation.

During a conference on the promotion of professionalism and ethics in media, held at the Imperial Garden Villa and Hotel, the journalists were divided into three groups and told to identify their single biggest professional challenge. All three groups settled on government lawsuits, and they urged Thach Phen, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, to bring their concerns to senior officials.

Puy Kea said on the sidelines of the conference that he knew of eight journalists who had been charged with spreading false information since January.

He pointed to the case of Hang Chakra, publisher of the pro-Sam Rainsy Party Khmer Machas Srok News, who faces criminal as well as civil charges in connection with three articles published in April that he said uncovered corruption on the part of officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. 

In a statement issued Monday, the UN cited the Hang Chakra case as one in a series of defamation and disinformation lawsuits that "undermine the constitutional freedom of opinion and expression which everyone in Cambodia is entitled to, and which is the cornerstone of the exercise of civil and political rights".

In response to that statement, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said, "Before they accuse [the government], they should learn more about Cambodia. We just carry out what the law requires". 

In discussions Wednesday, attendees said journalists who produced stories on topics such as corruption and land concessions were particularly vulnerable to lawsuits.

"Now, the court officials always charge journalists with false information when they receive complaints from high-ranking officers or from powerful people," said Om Chandara, president of the National Press Council of Cambodia.

"We are very worried when we face the false information charge that the government will not be fair," he added.

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