Phnom Penh Post of July 29 - August 11, 1994 reported on page 15 that the editors of Sakal and Kolbot Angkor were angry with me when I took them to court. I did not expect them to have a different reaction.
I have strong beliefs in democracy, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. When I took both editors to court there was no presumption on my part of their guilt as they may have thought.
The Ministry of Interior informed me that both newspaper carried articles harmful to national security. I simply refer the editors to the court where they can defend their case, and let the court decide whether those articles are harmful to national security or not. They are innocent until they are proven guilty by the court of law. Let the court decide then, and the press should exercise restraint in this matter lest the court proceedings are affected.
The Post reported charges that I do not know anything about the journalist's profession and writing newspapers. These charges are yet again another testimony to the lack of professionalism on the part of the authors. I can claim that I was directly and personally involved in journalism and the struggle for press freedom well before the birth of free press in Cambodia. Our KPNLF Bulletin was the first independent Cambodian newspaper to appear in Phnom Penh after the Paris Peace Agreement.
The Post further quoted me as saying "Please if you do not have good knowledge you should stop your newspapers and start butchering and selling meat. This is fine business for you."
This is a quotation taken out of the context and it was so badly translated that it is grossly misleading. That context was as follows: There was question to the discussion panel in which I was invited to participate, whether a butcher could write newspaper articles. A fellow panelist said he could. I just added that "if the butcher is not good at writing newspaper articles and if he is good at slaughtering pigs and selling pork, he would be better off slaughtering pigs and selling pork rather than writing newspaper articles."
There was bad and incorrect usage of the Khmer language in some newspapers. For instance I found a charge against me saying that I was an "ungrateful father", as they consider me as the father of newspapers, when I declined to accommodate their wishes. In our language and in our culture we may call an "ungrateful child" but definitely not an "ungrateful father". It simply is not Khmer.
This bad and incorrect usage of the Khmer language is yet again another testimony to the lack of professionalism on the part of those journalists. I know our democracy is very young and so is our press. In the growing process, a child learns to walk first before he can run. He will definitely fall when he cannot walk or cannot walk properly and attempts to run.
We do not prevent our young press from running, but we would advise it to learn to walk properly first. My Ministry and myself, we have been endeavoring to uphold press freedom. There have been no harassment or threat against journalists as has been alleged. Recently the Ministry of Interior has held a meeting with journalists with a view to providing them further security.
I cannot help noticing that in general our newspapers carry little news but a lot of lengthy comments and editorials. There have been almost continuous negative reports and comments on the situation in Cambodia. These reports are all the more negative when the journalists' own value judgments are added to them.
Value judgments are so extensive that those newspapers are more like political parties' newspapers. Objective and fair reporting so as to inform readers and let them make their own judgments has been compromised, and so has the truth about the situation in Cambodia. This reporting is detrimental to our efforts to rebuild our country and to establish democracy and the rule of law.
I have been making efforts to enlighten newspaper readers and the public at large on the true situation of Cambodia. Still, I feel that the press should first inform the public and report both bad news and good news to be objective and fair. I do not share the view that only bad news is news and good news is not news for the press.
Furthermore, as has been said of old that there cannot be freedom without restraint, the press needs to exercise self-restraint in expressing its opinions or in attacking personalities. I shall continue to uphold press freedom, but I fear that continued and persistent abuse of this freedom might well destroy it, and the press would only have itself to blame for this big setback for Cambodia.
- Ieng Mouly, Minister of Information