I NFORMATION MINISTER Ieng Mouly explained the changes to the draft press law he
wants to see in the light of international criticism of the bill during a
special closed doors meeting with UN Special Representative for Human Rights
Judge Kirby on May 31.
But the Minister warned that his proposed
amendments which will liberalize the bill may be altered prior to its submission
to the National Assembly.
The Minister of Information gave the Post
access to his comments from the closed meeting with Judge Kirby and this is the
first public airing of his comments. Human rights observers say that an effort
has been made by the government to respond to many of the criticisms.
what was described to the Post as a "very formal exchange of views between the
two participants," Mouly responded to a point by point discussion of the law
contained in a letter previously sent to the Minister from the Cambodian Human
Rights Field Office. That letter echoed to a large degree, though not entirely,
criticisms made by international critics like Human Rights Watch.
the many criticisms of the first draft are that:
• It empowers Ministers to unilaterally deny information to press
• Legally requires journalists to join a single professional press
• It requires businessmen to obtain government permission to open a book
store or printing house.
• Empowers the Ministry of Information to unilaterally shut down or suspend a
newspaper on the grounds of threats to national defence or public order.
• Truth is no defence against defamation suits brought againsts
The Minister of Information indicated that among the proposed
amendment a court will decide if a government ministry can deny specific
information to the press. The amendments also allow the formation of more than
one press organization though Mouly said he favors a strong and effective single
organization to enforce a code of ethics for journalists.
requiring the licensing of book stores and printing houses has been deleted
Mouly indicated. The Ministry of Information will still be empowered to shut
down a newspaper in the new draft law, but will be required to get judicial
In the article against defamation a public interest test
has been added.
In the previous draft if any newspaper published a
report "affecting the reputation" of a public figure, it would have been liable
to a charge of defamation, even if the report was true.
appears in the new draft that potentially defamatory reports can be defended on
public interest grounds though by itself the truth of the report remains no
Advocates of freedom of the press in Cambodia find the retention
of a suspension of publication clause troubling, in spite of the requirement to
gain judicial approval first.
Freedom of the press, they say, will
depend on judicial independence which is unlikely to be achieved in the near
future. They maintain that the requirement for judicial approval will have
little practical effect in maintaining a press environment free from
Mouly said that the Ministry of Information was working
closely with the Assembly Commission for Foreign Affairs, International Affairs
and Information to revise the draft.
It was not clear at press time
whether the law will be returned to the Council of Ministers for approval prior
to being debated in the National Assembly, when it will be returned to the
House, or even when the next meeting is scheduled.