The government has announced the formation of the National Committee for Coordinating Information and Public Opinion.

The committee will be responsible for strengthening public opinion by monitoring situations as and when they develop, and protecting the positive image of Cambodia.

A sub-decree on the implementation and functions of the committee, signed by Prime Minister Hun Manet on September 1, was released on September 5. It has six chapters and 15 articles.

It will defend national sovereignty and promote the government’s achievements, while also building a positive image of the Kingdom and attracting prestige, both within the country and on the international stage.

“The committee will also be responsible for timely responses to fake information, through the establishment of a new system. It will enhance the government’s digital strategic capabilities, initiate production of content that will strengthen public opinion, and undertake any other duties assigned by the head of government,” explained the sub decree.

The committee will be managed by the Council of Ministers, and will consist of six members.

The chairman will be a senior minister, while his four vice-chairmen will include the Minister of Information, the chairman of the Royal Government Spokesperson Unit, the head of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit, and a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office. The six additional members will be drawn from key ministries.

The sub-decree explained that the committee’s budget will be drawn from the Council of Ministers, and will be subject to all applicable laws and regulations.

Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA) executive director Nop Vy said on September 6 that he had not yet reviewed the details of the decree. He added that he found nothing unusual in a unit being created to disseminate government information, particularly in terms of sharing its activities on the domestic and international stages.

“I do not think it will be a problem, because it will allow the public to access more information. I do think there needs to be more effective mechanisms in place to verify information – the information ministry used to have measures in place to combat misinformation,” he continued.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, said he had no objection to the establishment of the committee, although he suggested that it could be criticised for increasing government expenditure.

He proposed that the government could strengthen existing measures related to the information ministry – by creating new mechanisms that control fake news, for example – rather than forming a whole new administrative body.