Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC), which is funded by Internews, ran a training course detailing the Kingdom’s press law for women journalists from a variety of media outlets in Phnom Penh. The course aims to teach them about their rights and responsibilities, and should help them defend themselves from accusations of unprofessional conduct.

The course taken place on August 15 was led by LAC executive director Run Saray and three lawyers: Un Chanthol, Lor Chunthy and Bun Reaksmey.

“This programme is specifically for women. We want them to study the press law so they are not harassed or persecuted. It is also a very good networking opportunity for them,” said Saray.

Chanthol said he had previously trained lawyers in Battambang, Siem Reap, and Kampot provinces. In addition he had defended journalists in court in 15 capital and provinces.

“Previously, men and women attended the courses alongside one another. This time, we decided to offer the course just to women, as they seem more comfortable and can share their experiences with each other,” he added.

During the course, he taught them the press law and some parts of the criminal code. He also shared his practical experience. He had a client who was jailed for extortion and threat of defamation. Because the case was tried during Covid-19 restrictions, he was unable to assist her and she received a six-month jail term.

“I introduced certain press laws that have relevance to their work,” he said.

The course covered article 1 of the press law – which guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of publication under articles 31 and 41 of the Kingdom’s Constitution – and articles 2 and 3, which meant that journalists had the right to protect their sources and were free from pre-publication censorship, respectively.

He also delved into article 5, which concerned requests for information from government institutions. Under the law, officials must supply answers within 30 days. If the request is denied, a specific reason for the denial must be supplied.

Many journalists felt that the 30 day deadline was too long, as urgent answers were often required when breaking a story, he said.

Ministry of Information spokesman Meas Sophorn told The Post that the press law passed in 1995 is under amendment process.

“Although the Press Law states that 30 days may be taken, for the convenience of journalists, we pay close attention to ensuring that they have access to information and officials through the Royal Government Spokesperson Unit,” he said.

He added that all ministries and institutions had introduced spokespeople after the ministry and the Ministry of Interior had issued inter-ministerial prakas to do so, in order to ensure good communication with journalists.

Chanthol suggested that journalists should submit a letter to the provincial information department of any place they were working.

However, Chunthy said it that mission letter from the information ministry is not required in the Kingdom, unless a reporter is travelling abroad.

“Even so, this could complement the relationship between journalists and government institutions. Sometimes when a reporter needs the cooperation or the support of an information department, it is easier if they have already introduced themselves,” said Sophorn.

“If they do not explain what they are investigating, it may be difficult for a department to find the information that need promptly,” he added.

Chanthol explained that it was the ministry’s position that journalists must respect professional ethics. They should report factually, without partiality, and not be affected by their emotions.

“There are a lot of untrained people working in the media here, and they certainly have gaps in their professional knowledge. There have been a lot of accusations against social media live broadcasters, who report only what they see, but do NOT always understand its context,” he said.