Prime Minister Hun Manet has called on the Kingdom’s media outlets and journalists to live up to their role as the “fourth estate”, while stressing the necessity for legal provisions to govern the sector.

Manet made the call while presiding over the closing of the Ministry of Information’s annual meeting on January 23.

Speaking to the assembled officials, he explained that as the fourth estate, the media can play an effective role in the protection of peace and national security, provided it is used correctly.

“The media empowers the people, allowing them to make informed decisions, and lets the government communicate its policies,” he said.

Manet spoke of the need for the media to adhere to professional journalism ethics, with consideration for privacy and social security. He urged journalists to seek out the kind of prestige that can be earned by behaving ethically.

“If journalists apply what might be called ‘free style’ and do whatever they want, then their value to the public will be lost. The people will not accept their opinions and will question whether their information can be trusted,” he said.

He added that most journalists do their work well, but warned that some have engaged in behaviour such as extortion or blackmail.

Manet also requested that the ministry and the media carefully consider whether they should show graphic images, such as dead bodies or traffic accidents.

He noted that in his first five months in office, he has been made aware of many situations via the media. Some of the reports had led him to take action or introduce new measures, while some of them had been of little value.

The prime minister encouraged the authorities at the sub-national level to work to solve any issues they encountered through the media before they become over-reported.

Manet also called on the media to spread awareness on the importance of respecting the traffic laws and other Cambodian laws.

He offered several recommendations for the improvement of the sector, such as the establishment of legal standards.

“Whenever we discuss legal standards or provisions, there are usually comments or accusations that the government makes law only to curb freedom of expression, especially by the press.

“Let me make it clear that such laws exist in every country. I lived in several other democratic countries for years. Sustainable democracy is based on law as its foundation. A democratic country without governing laws is called anarchy, or ‘democrazy’,” he said.

“Press laws are there to protect journalists who follow the law and adhere to professional ethics. If they follow the rules but are falsely accused, the law will protect them,” he said, explained that the freedom of the press must be balanced.

Regarding the protection of journalists, he said the government is looking into the possibility of providing legal aid to journalists should they face legal problems while carrying out their work ethically.

The premier reminded the information ministry and all relevant authorities to highlight the media’s positive achievements, while calling on them to consider taking action against any media outlet which attempts to defame Cambodia, whether domestically or on the international stage.

Information minister Neth Preaktra also addressed the meeting, noting that the number of journalists and media institutions is increasing year-on-year, an indication that the Kingdom’s media environment is “open and healthy”.

He said more than 2,000 media outlets are currently registered with the ministry, including 933 websites and online TV channels, 447 newspapers, 52 journalist associations, 194 magazines, 21 leaflet printers and 113 poster and billboard printing houses.

There are also 22 book publishers, 27 international media agencies and their representatives, two advertising companies, 283 FM radio stations and one AM station, 19 terrestrial and 12 digital TV stations and two satellite stations.

Cambodia has around 10,000 media employees, nearly 4,000 of them licensed journalists, Pheaktra said, noting that licences that are unused for a period of three years will be revoked. 

He also highlighted new measures to curb excessive alcohol advertising and combat the spread of fake news.

He noted some other challenges, such as the need for more legal provisions to govern the sector in the digital age, especially owing to the way fake news can be rapidly spread via social media, as well as the closure of some media outlets due to financial constraints.

He said the ministry is preparing a code of conduct for the media and will issue press cards with a QR code. It is also working with journalists’ associations, and preparing for the prime minister’s May meeting with journalists on World Press Freedom Day.