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Media-pass mandate a double-edged sword for Cambodia's journalists

Three ‘journalists’ pose with their press passes in Siem Reap province in November 2015 after they were detained for attempting to extort money from people. Photo supplied
Three ‘journalists’ pose with their press passes in Siem Reap province in November 2015 after they were detained for attempting to extort money from people. Photo supplied

Media-pass mandate a double-edged sword for Cambodia's journalists

The government has issued new rules for journalists to acquire a media pass – a move designed to crack down on fraudsters but that also poses a barrier to independent freelancers.

Ministry of Information spokesman Ouk Kimseng yesterday said that as of this month, the department will require applicants for a media pass to present their credentials from their organisation’s head.

“This is what we are seeking to crack down on – those who pretend to be journalists. We want to know exactly what organisation they are from,” Kimseng said.

The change comes in the wake of numerous cases of “fake journalists” extorting money from illegal timber traders.

But Pa Nuong Thea, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media, said the step was “another effort and latest aim of the government to impose pressure by making it more complicated and difficult for journalists”.

“It is quite suspect that this pressure comes at the time when the government tries to force media to use long official titles of the government leaders, such as ‘samdech’,” he added, referring to the honorific meaning “outstanding leadership and love from the people”.

The government on Wednesday issued a “final warning” to media outlets: From this month onwards, if any publication failed to use the honorific “samdech” when referring to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the government would “take measures”, but did not specify what those actions might be.

Photojournalist Jim Mizerski said he was told he needed to submit a letter with a stamp of a registered media company along with his application, “which by definition as an independent journalist, I cannot do”.

“After having a press card for about 10 years, I can no longer get one,” he said. “Taking pictures at [protests] is a right, not a privilege, so I will continue doing what I have been doing, with or without a card.”

Club of Cambodian Journalists president Pen Bona said legitimate freelancers should be given the opportunity to present their case to the ministry.

“I think normally the press card is for every journalist . . . they should have a press card, but it is a problem [for freelancers],” he said.

Analyst Chea Vannath said while the measure might have a negative impact on freelancers, the ministry had their reasons.

“The Khmer journalists in a lot of cases do not perform as a professional journalist; they wear the sign of ‘journalist’, but they went around threatening people and asking people for money,” she said.

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