Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC ‘code of censorship’ slammed

NEC ‘code of censorship’ slammed

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre) inks his index finger as his wife Bun Rany (centre left) votes at a polling station during the 2013 general election in Kandal province. Afp

NEC ‘code of censorship’ slammed

Media experts and observers yesterday called the National Election Committee’s media code of conduct a “code of censorship” that violates Cambodia’s Constitution, warning it should not be used “to justify any clampdown” on media covering the upcoming June 4 commune elections.

Under the code of conduct, journalists are prohibited from publishing or broadcasting “confusing” information that leads to a “loss of trust in the election”. They are also banned from expressing personal ideas or prejudgments of any event being covered, reporting on rumours or baseless information and insulting a national institution, political party or candidate.

The Ministry of Information, meanwhile, has threatened to revoke the licence of media organisations and shutter their businesses if they fail to abide by the NEC’s guidelines and code of conduct.

However, the ambiguity of the NEC’s rules makes it unclear what is and is not acceptable and could place journalists and the Kingdom’s news outlets in a difficult position, observers said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the “NEC has issued a code of censorship for journalists covering the election and dressed it up with the fancy term ‘code of conduct’ to make it look more palatable”.

“The maximum discretion and undefined terminology provided in this de facto censorship order means that any reporting the government doesn’t like will immediately expose the reporter to serious risk,” he wrote in an email. “This is an extension of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s war on the independent media, and the code should be revoked.”

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said the NEC’s rules were mere “red tape” and were a “violation” of the country’s constitution, in particular Article 41. The article protects freedom of the press and expression, albeit with the caveats that such freedom cannot be used to infringe on others’ “dignity”, the “good mores” of society and national security.

“Professional journalists know what to do and what not to do,” Chhean Nariddh said. “The biggest punishment will come from the public.” Several newspapers have disappeared because the public was able to distinguish between good and bad journalism, he added.

The code of conduct – citing the Law on Elections of Lawmakers and the Law on Commune Elections – calls for a fine of 5 million to 20 million riel, or about $1,250 to $5,000.

Asked under what law the Information Ministry was empowered to revoke a media organisation’s licence and shut it down for failing to follow the NEC’s rules, ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said he didn’t “have any comment on any particular law”.

“We based it on all aspects of the law and regulations that we have,” he said. Ed Legaspi, executive director at the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Press Alliance, said invoking these rules can become “dangerous if wielded for the purpose of controlling the media”.

“In this case, the [Ministry of Information] should not be using these NEC rules as a means to justify any clampdown on the media during the campaign,” he wrote in an email.

However, Huy Vannak, president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia – and a Ministry of Interior official – defended the NEC’s code of conduct. He said the rules are “good for your profession and moral responsibility”.

He said journalists would be able to distinguish what to report by remaining neutral. “I think the code of conduct is like a work contract, and will help you,” he said. “It’s like having a map in hand . . . and you won’t lose your way.”

NEC member and spokesman Hang Puthea, meanwhile, maintained the rules fell within the law and were not in violation of the constitution.

He said the goal of the code of conduct was to support all political parties without any “problems”.

“The code of conduct is not outside the constitution,” he said, adding the NEC will hold a workshop on Friday to provide guidance to journalists.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • Cambodia's poverty cut in half from 2009 to 2019: World Bank report

    A report published by the World Bank on November 28 states that Cambodia’s national poverty rate fell by almost half between 2009 and 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic recently reversed some of the poverty reduction progress. Cambodia’s poverty rate dropped from 33.8 to 17.8 per cent over the 10