In 2020, the Ministry of Information identified sources of objectionable or illegal material on social media including fake news and disinformation, various incitements, unfair criticism of the nation’s leadership and insults to the King totalling 1,343 cases.

The ministry revoked, among others, three media licences of organisations that violated the law in 2020, according to Phos Sovann, director-general of the ministry’s General Department of Information and Broadcasting.

At the forum on Internet Safety during Covid-19 pandemic on January 19, Sovann said more than 1,000 instances of fake news and disinformation had been spread by at least 103 different social media sources over the course of 2020.

“Social media accounts that spread fake news under a properly registered name, we can just tell them to correct or remove that information.

“But for social media accounts that are not properly registered, we have to send a report to the Ministry of Interior or other relevant authorities for them to review and take action,” he said.

According to the information ministry’s Fake News Monitoring Committee report, out of the more than 1,000 cases of fake news last year, the ministry issued notice requesting revision or correction in 49 cases.

Another 36 cases were referred to the National Police for further action.

Two cases were sent to the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) with a request that they block access to the particular websites involved.

And eight cases were pursued through official complaints to Facebook, which resulted in the social media giant deleting the offending content in one case and closing the offending accounts in two other cases.

The report also said that last year the National Police arrested two individuals who had posted messages to insult the country’s leadership and incite social unrest. The two were identified as Ni Nak, owner of the IMan-KH Facebook page, and Ngin Suy Try, owner of several Facebook accounts such as Bong Seyha and Try Seangmey.

According to Sovann, the General Department of Information and Broadcasting issued warnings and guidance to two media outlets in 2020 that had published fake news and engaged in unethical journalism: K01 and New Earth (PDT-News).

The department also revoked three media licences in 2020 for serious violations: Universe TV Online, TVFB, and Rithi Sen Radio Station and Online News.

Sovann said advances in information technology have actively contributed to the expansion of human communication globally and have provided many benefits to both media consumers and producers.

He said, however, that such advanced technology has also exponentially increased the dissemination of fake news and disinformation.

He said this has had a profound effect on people’s decisions in their daily lives and is causing social disorder, not just in Cambodia but even in the most developed nations such as the US.

Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) executive director Nop Vy observed that law enforcement actions taken by the authorities against journalists in 2020 was of serious concern because it could lead to the elimination of press freedoms and make it impossible for journalists to do their duty.

“Using the police and the courts to prosecute journalists when they have only their pen or camera in hand as they do their duty by telling the truth and upholding the ethics of their profession is a serious violation of their rights and freedoms.

“Last year we saw too many journalists end up in court for exercising their rights,” Vy said.

However, the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia (UJFC) contended in their January 11 report that Cambodia has no serious concerns about press freedom.

The report said that in 2020, the UJFC received 33 complaints about journalists who were members of their organisation and that they successfully intervened in many cases and were able to resolve these complaints.

Most of the complaints, the report said, were not related to press laws or government actions but were focused on reporting that detailed certain land disputes between private parties.