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Media freedom rank drops

A photographer for Agence France-Presse is hit with a baton by a military police officer during a demonstration in Phnom Penh
A photographer for Agence France-Presse is hit with a baton by a military police officer during a demonstration in Phnom Penh last month. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Media freedom rank drops

Cambodia's press freedom ranking has slipped one place to 144th out of 179 countries, according to the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, released yesterday by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

While the Kingdom finished ahead of such ASEAN partners as the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, Benjamin Ismail, head of the Asia-Pacific desk at Reporters Without Borders, said the situation remained “very worrying”.

“Not only has the government policy regarding press freedom, freedom of information and freedom of expression in general become stricter, but the government also shows complete disregard to the situation and security of journalists,” he said.

“Impunity on crimes against newsmakers and the absence of reaction from the authorities is one [of] the most worrying facts observed throughout the year.”

The ranking’s methodology takes into account the number of journalists and netizens who were jailed, killed, arrested and attacked last year, along with issues such as self-censorship, government interference, transparency and media pluralism.

No journalists were killed in the Kingdom last year, but a number of incidents highlighted restrictions on the press.

Ahead of the July election, the Ministry of Information issued a ban on foreign Khmer-language radio broadcasts during the 31-day campaign period that was quickly rescinded following widespread condemnation, though a five-day ban remained in place.

In September, at least seven foreign and local journalists were attacked with slingshots, batons and electric cattle prods by masked men allegedly supervised by police while covering peaceful protests at Wat Phnom.

During opposition party protests at Freedom Park in December, a state TV cameraman was attacked by irate demonstrators who allegedly accused his network of being biased towards the ruling party. A recent report from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights also found that self-censorship was rife among journalists and bloggers due to fear of threats or legal action.

Ouk Kimseng, an adviser at the Ministry of Information and deputy director general at state news agency AKP, said that while Cambodia’s press freedom was “not perfect”, the ranking did not reflect the
reality on the ground.

“For now, all journalists enjoy freedom of expression, however, we need to do more, and work more to get more professional.… They just look at one or two angles, but overall it’s all right and better,” he said.

But Puy Kea, a board member of the Cambodian Club of Journalists, said violence against journalists at protests was a significant development in 2013 and had escalated in the first months of this year.

“Cambodian reporters going to cover any event now, they are very careful, especially at demonstrations.… There are no clear instructions from politicians, leaders, authorities and political parties, [so] sometimes journalists get hurt,” he said.

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