As the 2023 national election is approaching, the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) and the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) held a two-day training workshop to highlight the key role of the media in the poll.

The workshop, held from December 28-29, were attended by representatives from the National Election Committee (NEC), research institutions, print and online media, radio and television stations, civil society organisations and universities

Mok Dara, deputy secretary-general of the NEC, said: “The professional media plays an important role in sharing information from the National Election Committee [NEC] to registered voters.

“Journalists must disseminate information neutrally, fairly and accurately during the election process. All media outlets must publish information that is factual, without prejudice,” he added.

Speaking at the opening of the workshop, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith highlighted the important role of journalists in a functioning democratic society, while expressing concerns about the profession in a digital society that was polluted by fake news.

“An independent press is a vital symbol of an inclusive democratic society,” he said.

“Journalists are responsible for providing information to voters so they can make informed choices and when it comes time to select their representatives,” he added.

Kanharith spoke in support of the NEC’s ban on the unofficial release of election results, saying the measure helped to avoid accusations of impropriety from political parties who may have miscalculated the number of seats.

“Banning the publication of election results before the official figures are released by the NEC is a sensible decision,” he said.

He was unsure if the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications were able to control misinformation on the new sites used by young people.

“Currently, on White Day – the day before the polls open, when campaign activities are banned – we ban political advertising on radio and television, as well as on social media,” he explained.

Puy Kea, president of the CCJ, shared the minister’s concerns about the dissemination of misinformation or disinformation during the upcoming elections.

“Journalists must be sure that they check their sources very carefully. I would say at least two sources would be required for any story to be presented as genuine, although there should be more, ideally,” he said.

“Anyone can share false information or rumours via Facebook, YouTube and so on. The spread of false information is sometimes intentional and widespread,” he warned.

“In order for the elections to be free and fair, all of the parties involved – including organisers, voters and journalists – must adhere to the rules,” said the NEC’s Dara.

“Although there are many stages of the election process, the campaign portion is when journalists can really advance the functioning of a democracy. Naturally, it is also important that their coverage of the results of an election is also fair and accurate,” he added.

He said NEC worked very hard to resolve any complaints or issues that are lodged on election day before it can announce the official results.

He said the NEC cooperates with the director general of the National Radio and Television of Cambodia to share the preliminary results. All other media outlets should wait for this to occur before they speculate about the results.

“The NEC will soon issue details of the voting procedures for this year’s elections. We want all voters to have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities, and journalists are the key to making sure the public has the most up-to-date and accurate information,” he added.