Independent media in Cambodia is regularly stifled by “routine” attacks against reporters, a lack of access to official information, government pressure and low pay, though the rapid rise of online news and social networking give cause for hope, according to a report released today.
Released ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media’s Challenges for Independent Media 2014 report surveyed 78 journalists and analysed developments in the media.
Despite several incidents at political protests, which saw at least eight journalists attacked by security forces last year, the study found the majority of journalists were upbeat about the direction of the industry.
Behind the optimism, says the report, is the rapid rise of the internet in Cambodia, which has allowed more people to access, debate and share news, particularly through social networking.
However, despite the “online revolution”, serious challenges remain, including the government’s attempts to regulate the net, the report noted.
“Things are definitely improving,” said Um Sarin, of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists.
“But Cambodia can still be quite a dangerous place. We want the government to do more to bring people who attack or kill journalists to court.”
The report found journalists are “routinely subjected to violence” when covering controversial issues, with some 17 per cent of respondents attacked while reporting. Rural and local reporters were most at risk.
The study also called 2014 the deadliest year for Cambodian reporters since 1997, with three journalists killed. Although one of these deaths was allegedly connected to an extortion scheme, authors cited it as another case of the poor ethics that undermine the industry.
Some 79 per cent of respondents said the majority of Cambodian reporters did not conduct themselves with sufficient professionalism, with 40 per cent blaming low salaries for the trend. The majority of Cambodian journalists earned $300 or more, the report noted.
Even without direct threats, many journalists self-censored, particularly when covering land concessions, politics, corruption, courts and human rights, which independent media commentator Moeun Chhean Nariddh said was a major problem.
“Journalists continue to apply self-censorship by not reporting on sensitive issues because of the culture of impunity related to the killing and attacks on journalists,” he said.
The lack of an access to information law was also a major barrier to reporting, according to 93 per cent of respondents, with 66 per cent indicating their information requests through the current Press Law had yielded an improper response.
Although the government is drafting such legislation, the report cast doubt on its will to make reforms, noting it had made a number of yet-to-be realised commitments to press freedom last year.
Television, the medium most tightly controlled by the government, was the most distrusted by respondents, but was gaining popularity and starting to replace radio as the primary means of communication with citizens. Radio remained the most widely accessible, but tight licensing restrictions mean that only three outlets broadcast independent news. Newspaper audiences remain confined to urban populations.
Although growing rapidly – with the country registering 25 per cent penetration last year – the internet was “under threat” in 2014, authors wrote, citing the government’s scrapped cybercrime law, its plan to install surveillance equipment in the country’s ISPs and its online monitoring “Cyber War Teams”.
The Ministry of Information did not respond to a request for comment .