Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday praised press freedom in the Kingdom, saying the media has enjoyed uncensored news publication without fear.
In a note marking World Press Freedom Day, he said the government has promoted freedom of expression and the press law in line with the Constitution.
“The government needs media that is professionally energetic, responsible and sincere in disseminating information,” he said.
However, he said journalists will be held accountable before the law if they abuse other people’s rights or publish “fake news” that could cause social chaos. He also warned media against publishing news that is inciting, insulting and discriminating.
He said fake news can be more detrimental to society and cause even more harm than the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Even though Covid-19 is brutal in nature and causes serious danger to human lives the world over, this disease doesn’t cause venomous and brutal danger as much as the dissemination of fake news by some outlets and a handful of anonymous people on social media.
“[The anonymous people] have always used every means to destroy the happiness of the Cambodian people and overthrow the legitimate government,” he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan told The Post on Sunday that Hun Sen wanted journalists to join hands with the state in building the nation and tackling corruption.
Such collaboration, he said, could help the government provide more efficient public services for the people as they could report officials’ inaction and bring people’s concerns to light.
But in echoing the prime minister, he said journalists need to maintain professionalism and refrain from abusing the rights of others.
He said in light of the emergence of media in various forms in the digital age, aside from traditional media, the government has introduced guidelines and the press law and access to information law, with each state institution assigning spokespeople to facilitate the work.
“Journalists are not allowed to become activists that mislead the public or galvanise or subvert [the government’s effort] in the information sector,” he said.
Cambodian Centre for Independent Media director Nop Vy on Sunday said press freedom in Cambodia had declined since 2017. He said threats, brief detention of journalists and accusations against them remain an issue.
He said journalists had also been prohibited from covering certain stories without approval from government officials.
“Besides, we have seen that the courts have been asked to bring up old legal cases against journalists,” he said.
On the positive side, he said the government has expressed its willingness to allow foreign media outlets to operate in the Kingdom. He cited Voice of America, which has been allowed to reopen its office after it ceased operations before the general elections.
Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJA), an association working to protect the rights of journalists, and the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia (OPCC) on Sunday issued a joint statement expressing concern over press freedom.
They said journalists in Cambodia remained fearful of publishing sensitive news critical of the government, which can result in lawsuits against them.
“Too often, this fear results in a form of self-censorship that prohibits journalists from pursuing our public-service mission and inhibits our ability to help people make informed decisions as members of society,” the statement said.
Reporters without Borders ranked Cambodia 144th out of 180 countries in terms of freedom of the press this year.