Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mouly upbeat on Press Law

Mouly upbeat on Press Law

Mouly upbeat on Press Law

I NFORMATION Minister Ieng Mouly says the press law is clear and responds to the

country's reality.

Mouly said he hoped that once the law is promulgated

journalists would be more interested in taking their responsibilities by

providing people with fair reporting and they will know what they can and cannot

report.

Mouly said that journalists would not be jailed for expressing

opinions.

Speaking at the International Federation of Journalists

conference on July 25 - and in a seperate statement to the Post - he said that

the most serious matter was Article 12 which deals with the contentious - and in

the law, undefined - phrases "national security" and "political stability."

"The national security is a very serious business. I don't think that

just criticizing the government or a minister can affect national security," he

said.

He said that national security could be affected only if there was

a serious situation that could bring down the government illegally or create a

situation where Cambodia was at war with another country. Threats to national

security could also be any newspaper article which defeated military or police

operations.

The minister said that the law could be amended at any time,

"but we have to experience this law first. You cannot say it is bad before you

implement the law".

"We cannot use the article to close down or

confiscate any newspaper because it criticizes the government.

"The law

allows for free publication for all truthful information. We can punish only if

there is something false which can affect the honor and dignity of a

person."

Mouly said his ministry and the Ministry of Interior must act in

co-operation in any action against newspapers.

"We cannot close a

newspaper without a reason and without the decision of the court.

"So

that is the rule of law," he said.

Mouly's definitions of the

contentious phrases are similar to those urged by some MPs to be included in the

law, during a Parliamentary debate on July 18. However, moves to have the

definitions enshrined in law were soundly defeated during that

session.

Critics said the government was exercising "legislative power"

by blocking attempts to have the phrases defined in law. They said that the law

remained tremendously vague and left the government with much opportunity to

abuse its power. As a result, they said, the law could be enforced at the

government's will to throw more journalists in jail.

"The whole law is

meaningless. This is a license to people who implement the law to abuse the

law," one observer said, adding that defining those terms outside the law was a

violation of the constitution.

"Public institutions can virtually define

anything as a violation of political stability and national security. There is

no control over that," he added. He and other observers said that the

definitions should have been legalized as the sub-decree can be revoked or

changed.

KJA advisor Mike Fowler said "It's certainly better than having

no definition at all. It would be a better law if they had taken out political

stability. Political stability is a term that you really can't define. How are

you going to define that?" he added.

Fowler said he hoped that the

government was genuinely dedicated to having a free press and enforcing the law

fairly to allow dissent and free speech. However, he added, the way the law was

written also raised the possibility that it will be implemented to suppress

criticism.

"As long as you can interpret it [the law] almost any way, it

can be applied arbitrarily. Very bad journalism done by political allies could

go unpunished, but legitimate criticism from opponents could be punished. It

certainly could be under this law," he said.

Loy Sim Chheang, Assembly

vice-chairman, said Premiers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen would sign a

Royal code accepting the adopted press law. He said that the code would be

forwarded to Chea Sim, acting Head of State, for his final signature.

LCJ President Chum Kanal said "I'm very concerned about our journalists

under this law which is very restrictive. We will talk with the government to

ease toughness."

KJA President Pin Samkhon said he was not satisfied with

the passage of the press law, which left national security and political

stability undefined.

"We will ask foreign countries to build a good jail

with an air-conditioner for journalists," he said.

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