Prime Minister Hun Sen praised journalists and a large number of local press institutions for making efforts to prevent the spread of fake news propagated by “rebels” and opportunists who intended to incite social unrest against the government.
Hun Sen’s statement was made through a letter dated December 5 to extend his congratulations to the 16th Cambodian Editors Forum, held the day before.
The Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) held the forum under the theme Cambodian Media in 4.0 Era in Phnom Penh on Friday with the participation of editors-in-chief, publishers and representatives of the press.
While appealing to the authorities at all levels not to present obstacles for journalists, participants also urged their compatriots to put in more effort to promote the media and perform their work more effectively and responsibly in line with their code of conduct.
In his letter, Hun Sen said fake news had become more common in the digital era and a cause for concern. He called on journalists to join in the fight against it by using their knowledge of digital technology to disseminate facts in a responsible and timely manner.
“The mission of journalists and the press is really important to maintain security, political stability, sustainable development and to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Cambodia,” the letter said.
Without specifically naming individuals, Hun Sen said some opportunists backed by foreigners through various media channels and social media had tried to stir unrest in an attempt to topple the legitimate government and drag Cambodia into another war.
“The government really needs dynamic media institutions with a high sense of responsibility and good faith in their profession. That requires journalists to reach all relevant parties, speak the truth, dare criticise institutions and also accept the truth,” he said.
The forum urged journalists to learn about the law on anti-fake news which he said remains a crucial task for them to boost the effectiveness of their work and promote values, professional news, and beware of news that can stir unrest in society.
“Authorities at all levels … please do not present any obstacles for journalists but instead, offer good cooperation in providing information for them so that they can disseminate the news to citizens.
“We also urged the courts to use the Law on the Press to resolve cases related to the media profession,” he said.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith told reporters after the forum that journalists must acquire and improve their knowledge of digital technology to verify the news.
He said they must also have knowledge of foreign languages in order to better communicate with foreign journalists while respecting the code of ethics and Cambodia’s Law on the Press.
“To make news interesting to readers, some journalists sensationalise it. News must be presented with proper arguments, not be too long or complicated and be presented with sound arguments and with clear reasons,” he said.
Cambodian Journalists Alliance founder May Tithara agreed that fake news is a cause for concern in the digital age. He said while a large number of Cambodians use social media including Facebook, some could not differentiate between real and fake news.
“If journalists publish fake news they will face legal action. So far there have been three or four journalists who have been imprisoned for publishing news without verifying it.
“The government has paid due attention to journalists as we can see in [Hun Sen’s] letter. He encouraged journalists to report without fear and in good faith and remain unbiased. The government has created spokesperson units to respond to reporters’ queries,” he said.