Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged journalists to demonstrate their credibility and earn the public’s trust, while urging traditional media to go digital and expand their online presence amid fierce competition from online-only outlets and social media players.
Hun Sen made the call as part of his message to commemorate World Press Freedom Day on May 3, observed globally with the theme of “Journalism Under Digital Siege”.
He said traditional media has been hit hard in the digital age, as social media and global crises like Covid-19 had accelerated society’s movement towards digital services – which thrived during the pandemic – while bringing the rest of the economy to a halt at times.
This situation and its financial aspects have made it hard for traditional media outlets to survive and many of them have already closed their doors due to these problems, he noted.
“Although partnership between the government and media institutions has been promoted and freedom of the press is widely open, some media institutions are still facing many problems that will require them to embrace digitalisation in order to be able to provide professional and comprehensive news that will earn the trust of the public.
“That’s the only way they can compete in a market full of digital media and social media,” he said.
Hun Sen also called on the media – both local and international journalists who are working in Cambodia – to maintain their professionalism and improve their capacities personally and institutionally to compete in today’s market.
He also called on journalists to avoid writing and distributing fake news as it will destroy their credibility with the public while diminishing the dignity, honour and value of the institutions that employ or publish them.
Hun Sen also said the government is committed to protecting freedom of expression and freedom of the press while promoting partnership between the government and the media, which he said is a positive dynamic in a democratic society.
“The government places a priority on its policy of encouraging the media to contribute to the fight against corruption and the promotion of legal, judicial and administrative reforms, the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights and to build a society with justice, prosperity, peace and enduring development. This is the vision for Cambodia that the government wishes to see realised,” he said.
Hun Sen also called on the media to encourage people to get vaccinations including booster shots, saying the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet.
The Ministry of Information and other government officials, UNESCO, foreign embassies, journalist associations and those working in the media industry also observed World Press Freedom Day with a gathering at a hotel in Phnom Penh on May 3.
Lieutenant General Hun Manet, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and Commander of the Royal Cambodian Army, attended the event on behalf of Hun Sen.
Lt Gen Manet said that for the press to fulfil its role as the “fourth estate”, the media must always publish and broadcast the truth in order to assist the government with identifying and solving problems as they encounter them.
“The media is like a weapon used on the battlefield. Sharing fake and dangerous news will destroy society. But if the news is true, complete and timely, then it is the best medicine for our society,” he said.
UNESCO representative to Cambodia Sardar Umar Alam and EU ambassador to Cambodia Carmen Moreno said journalists currently face many challenges, including harassment and surveillance by some government agents, among others, all of which required solidarity to protect the media’s freedom and independence.
Information minister Khieu Kanharith said at the event that although traditional media outlets worldwide are facing challenges which could force some of them to shut down, those in Cambodia remains robust.
He noted that as of 2022, traditional print media in Cambodia totalled 662 outlets consisting of newspapers, magazines, bulletins and leaflets.
Kanharith further noted that there are over 700 news websites, 81 online video outlets, 19 traditional TV stations, 125 relay stations, two cable TV providers, three subscription TV services, 221 radio stations and 26 international news agencies and foreign press offices as well as 51 journalist associations.
“All of these show the strength and power of the media in Cambodia. The government also protects journalists who do their jobs professionally by providing them with volunteer lawyers to defend them in cases where there are unwarranted lawsuits,” he said.
He said that in 2020, there were two media institutions that requested legal defence assistance from the government’s volunteer lawyer programme managed by the Bar Association in the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC). In 2021, they helped with nine cases involving journalists being sued, seven of which were resolved by the information ministry while two were settled in court.
He said the ministry is working with the Ministry of Justice to speed up the remaining work for submitting the draft law on access to information to the government while amendments to the press law are also being initiated.
Kanharith also denied reporting about press freedoms in Cambodia by certain journalist associations, which he said were motivated to distort the truth in order to serve the interests of their donors.
He noted that the report was lacking in basic factual accuracy because it said the ministry revoked a media licence for alleged extortion by a media organisation, when in reality it was only suspended.
He said the report also ignored the fact that journalists in Cambodia were classified as frontline workers during the pandemic and were prioritised for vaccinations.
“But they don’t bother writing that in their reports,” he said.
US ambassador to Cambodia W Patrick Murphy along with French ambassador Jacques Pellet and Japanese ambassador Masahiro Mikami also observed World Press Freedom Day on May 3 with an event to honour the 37 journalists and correspondents who went missing or were killed during the conflict in Cambodia.
“Reporting the news is never easy or without risk – and today we honour independent journalists in Cambodia and around the world who toil daily to investigate, analyze, question and report,” said Murphy.
The event was also held in order to highlight the importance of press freedoms as enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Freedom of the press is the foundation of any free and democratic society,” Mikami stated.
An embassy press release stated that the US, France and Japan are committed to assisting the Cambodian people with their aspirations for a more prosperous, democratic and independent country where all voices are heard and respected.
“Today, by paying tribute to those journalists who lost their lives while reporting on the Cambodian civil war in the 1970’s – now at a time when journalists are being killed, wounded, targeted and abducted in Ukraine – we want to recall that without the protection of journalists there is no press freedom,” Pellet said.