Every year, May 3, World Press Freedom Day, is an occasion to reflect on the importance of the media in our increasingly globalised world.
It provides an opportunity to evaluate press freedom and advance its cause, to defend the media from threats, political pressure and other forms of unlawful attacks undermining their independence, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives or have been illegally detained in the exercise of their profession.
World Press Freedom Day also serves as a reminder to member states of the United Nations of their obligation to protect and promote freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The theme chosen this year for the celebration of World Press Freedom Day in Cambodia is Promoting Responsible Journalism.
As of 2011, there are more than 70 radio broadcasters, almost 400 registered Khmer-language newspapers and 10 national broadcast channels in the Kingdom, according to the Ministry of Information.
In such a burgeoning media scene, discussions surrounding the establishment of an independent self-regulation mechanism and a journalists’ code of ethics must be at the forefront of media development in Cambodia.
Since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, which ended years of civil war and brought a young democracy and a free press to Cambodia, there have been significant improvements in the professional standards of journalists.
It is still far from rare, however, to see biased news reports without credible sources, or to spot shocking and violent images in newspapers.
Sensationalised stories are often presented, with potential risks and damage to individuals’ dignity and safety.
Professional Cambodian journalists are becoming more and more concerned about such ethical infractions, and are becoming keenly aware of the need for the establishment of an independent body to oversee the application of a journalists’ code of ethics.
As a result, in 2010, a national conference of Cambodian journalists with the theme Journalism Ethics and the General Situation of Ethical Journalistic Practices was organised with the support of UNESCO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia.
This conference resulted in the establishment of the Cambodian Journalist Council for Ethics (CJCE), comprised of long-serving journalists, media practitioners and senior members of diverse media organisations.
The aim of this independent council is to improve ethical practices and professionalism of the media and thereby reduce the potential harm to journalists.
CJCE is still a fledgling organisation, but it hopes to widen its work by developing mechanisms to monitor print and broadcast media for breaches of ethical conduct, and advising and taking appropriate actions through the issuing of recommendations and alerts and the explanation of problems.
The United Nations in Cambodia supports these efforts.
The foremost task of a journalist is to serve, through a dedication to objective reporting, the people’s right to information that is accurate, factual and balanced.
It must be acknowledged, however, that Cambodian journalists work under difficult conditions.
As a result, there are many obstacles to achieving a high level of professionalism and robust ethical standards.
Journalists face challenges such as low salaries, lack of access to information, lack of formal training, and limited protection from legal and physical harassment.
In order to protect the safety of journalists and to increase space for freedom of expression in Cambodia, it is essential to work towards an Access to Information Law, and review some of the existing defamation, disinformation and incitement provisions in the 1995 Press Law and the new Penal Code.
The United Nations in Cambodia believes media development calls for a holistic approach that takes into account all aspects of the media sector by fostering an enabling environment through a strong legal and policy framework and by advancing the professional standards in journalism practice through capacity-building.
World Press Freedom Day is our opportunity to raise issues surrounding our work towards helping to build a free, independent and pluralistic media.
The United Nations in Cambodia calls on the Royal Government of Cambodia, professional media and civil-society organisations to join hands in promoting freedom of expression in accordance with internationally accepted laws and principles.
For more information on World Press Freedom Day, visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/phnompenh