The draft Law on Access to Information could possibly be passed in 2024 or 2025, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The drafting of the law has been underway for several years, with inputs from different stakeholders including NGOs and UNESCO who have been pushing for its passage and promulgation. It has currently reached the Ministry of Justice for review of the sections regarding criminal penalties.

Addressing nearly 5,000 journalists and people working in the media sector in Cambodia on January 14, Hun Sen said the draft law could be passed during the 7th government mandate, possibly in 2024 or 2025.

“It is not hard for the government to exercise its rights to just pass it. It is easy because a minister just finishes the draft and sends it to Council of Ministers who will approve it and send it on to the National Assembly,” he said. “But we want to collect all inputs to make sure that this law will be enacted to serve the interests of all stakeholders.”

The premier noted that some NGOs were demanding so much that ministers had to intervene in order to review their requests.

At the event, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that the Access to Information draft law had been sent to the justice ministry in late 2022 to review the section on crimes and penalties after the technical working group at the ministry finished the draft following discussions.

“In the meantime, the information ministry is also preparing to make amendments to the press law to make it consistent with the Access to Information law and other relevant provisions in force,” he said.

While the law is being made, he said the ministry will keep strengthening the capacity of journalists through trainings and workshop on ethics and technical capacity to give them a better understanding of the country’s press law.

Kanharith said that in 2021, a total of nine workshops were conducted on this topic while in 2022 another 10 had been carried out. The ministry is also focused on fighting against fake news as other countries around the world are doing.

“[We] work closely with relevant ministries and institutions to combat fake news made up by opportunists who intend to cause chaos in society, affecting security and sparking political turmoil. The fight has been participated in by state and private media in the country,” he said.

Hun Sen also called on the media to counter fake news and disinformation domestically, regionally and internationally.

“How we can counter fake news and disinformation is through showing the truth in a speedy, rapid, and clear manner. Don’t let fake news have a long life. Whichever section is in charge must react to any fake news immediately,” he said.

During the meeting, Hun Sen also called on the media to join in to protect peace and spread educational measures to the public to discourage all sorts of crime. He said the media should be a two-way bridge between the government and the people and vice versa.

While urging journalist to uncover government inactivity and corruption as well as injustices, Hun Sen also urged them to adhere to professionalism and ethical standards, stating that he would provide lawyers to protect those who carry out their work professionally, but not for those who infringe on other’s individual rights.

“Any journalist who dares to show the truth with enough evidence – if they face any problem – I will send lawyers to defend them in court. But I won’t send any lawyers to defend those who slander others,” he said. “I accept cases with reasonable legal cause and facts, but I won’t accept cases in which journalists defame other people.”

Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJa), applauded Hun Sen’s commitment to provide legal aid to journalists who face lawsuits for “ethically” fulfilling the duties of their profession such as reporting on corruption or other inaction by government officials.

He also urged that the legal protections begin early before the journalists face challenges in court.

“It should be ensured that no journalist faces prosecution, hindrances or threats for their work,” he added.

On the draft law on Access to Information, Vy urged that the draft be passed early because “it is very beneficial for journalists and the general public”.

“I think it is too long to wait further. If we look at the time we have already spent to prepare this draft law since its beginning, it has been four years already. Given that the basic foundation for it has been completed, it seems a bit long for an inter-ministerial working group to review a draft law,” Vy said.

According to the information ministry, Cambodia has 660 print media outlet including newspapers, bulletins and magazines as of January this year. There are 878 registered online media outlets, 220 FM radio stations, national radio via AM frequencies, 20 live broadcast TV stations and 165 other stations with two cable TV services and 10 digital media service providers.

Also in operation are 26 foreign new agencies, radio stations and TV broadcasters as well as 51 press associations.