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Mouly mulls press bill changes

Mouly mulls press bill changes

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.

In

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.

Among

the many criticisms of the first draft are that:

 

• It empowers Ministers to unilaterally deny information to press

organizations.

• Legally requires journalists to join a single professional press

organization.

• 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

newspapers.

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.

The clause

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

approval first.

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.

Strangely, it

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

defense.

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

intimidation.

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.

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