Prime Minister Hun Manet is scheduled to hold a dinner meeting with journalists on World Press Freedom Day, which falls in early May.

He will deliver a political address during the event, which an official described as demonstrating his government’s commitment to a strong information sector, as well as freedom of expression.

Phos Sovann, director-general of Information and Broadcasting at the Ministry of Information, said on January 10 that Manet has set the date of May 3 for the gathering, the sixth of its kind.

Former Prime Minister Hun Sen hosted the event annually prior to the inauguration of the new government in August last year.

He noted that the event, to be held at Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Centre in Phnom Penh, will fall on World Press Freedom Day.

This year’s gathering will bring together four to five thousand journalists. The agenda will be similar to last year’s event, although Hun Sen held the meeting in January, rather than May.

“This meeting is of great importance. We will allow journalists to meet with our prime minister and other leaders in person. By meeting with them, he is demonstrating his commitment to freedom of the press and the right of expression in Cambodia,” said Sovann.

Government spokesman Pen Bona recalled that Hun Sen had initiated these meetings to foster the relationship between the Kingdom’s leaders and the media, and that the meetings reflect the high value the government places on journalists. 

Bona said few other countries organised such programmes.

“The previous meetings have benefitted the information sector. Our country is a small, with a population of just over 17 million people. Despite this, there are over 2,000 registered media outlets, and hundreds of thousands of journalists work in this sector. The Kingdom is clearly very open to the media sector,” he added. 

He said the occasion provides an opportunity for journalists and leaders to gain a clearer understanding of one another and communicate more openly. In addition, sharing a meal creates intimacy between the two sides, also an important part of promoting the sector.

Puy Kea, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), supported the gathering, saying it is important for journalists to gain an insight into the policies of the new government. The meeting also shows the close attention the prime minister pays to journalists. 

“Generally, journalists publish reports according to the freedom of the press, press laws, and rights to freedom of speech. Occasionally, the government determines that they have overstepped the boundaries of press laws, violated the law, or breached their professional code of ethics. This is when the government requires that journalists issue corrections,” he added.

He believes that the meeting would provide an opportunity for the government and journalists to discuss the promotion of the profession and offer suggestions about how to maintain the freedom of the press.

Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJa), echoed Kea’s sentiments, explaining that the meeting showcases the close relationship between the head of government and the media. Ideally, it would also serve as a forum where they can exchange ideas and keep the prime minister informed of any challenges in the information sector.

“If the meeting is similar to previous occasions – where the attendees enjoy a meal and listen to a speech by the prime minister – but there is no opportunity for journalists, civil society organisations or media outlets to make requests or offer suggestions to the government, then the event is less helpful than it could be,” he suggested.

He added that if the government invites input from the attendees, then CamboJa will request that more journalists be trained, that more associations and civil society organisations promote a professional code of ethics for journalists, and education in media literacy and digital safety be provided to members of the public.

“We want government leaders to examine and solve some challenges that are facing journalists, such as impunity issues. We would also like to see new laws related to access to information,” he continued.

The meeting with journalists has been held on five previous occasions, although the event was suspended for three years during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hun Sen set the date of January 14 for the meetings – the day he assumed the top office.