Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday used an international business forum to duck questions asked by two local media outlets – Radio Free Asia and the Cambodia Daily – only to go on to lecture them on correctly interpreting his words in their news reports and calling them anti-government outlets.
On the second day of the World Economic Forum on Asean, being held in the Kingdom for the first time, the premier was addressing a news conference when he took the reporters from the two outlets to task for working for “American” publications, ignoring their innocuous business-related questions.
Never shy to air his displeasure with the popular radio broadcasters and the Kingdom’s two independent English-language dailies, mostly at local rallies or events, but Hun Sen chose this time around to use the forum’s international stage to target the publications.
“You work for Radio Free Asia, which is a radio against the government. And you write for Cambodia Daily, which opposes me all the time,” he said.
He went on to link his achievements in eliminating the Khmer Rouge with the two journalists’ ability to work for what he classified as foreign news outlets.
“Your grandparents and parents could survive, so that is why you can work for American radio and newspapers,” he said. “Is this not a live example of what the Royal Government is doing for you?”
Hun Sen struck a different note during the opening session of forum, where he spoke of the economic benefits of Asean. He was followed by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who focused on illegal drugs which he said threatened the region.
Since he became president, around 7,000 Filipinos have been murdered in extra-judicial killings endorsed by him. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the scourge of illegal drugs that threatens us. We need to make a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drugs trade apparatus,” he said.
Last year, Hun Sen name dropped President Duterte while talking about efforts to eliminate Cambodia’s “booming” drug-trafficking menace, though he stopped short of endorsing his draconian tactics.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party, found little wrong with Hun Sen’s earlier outburst, saying the premier was only trying to clarify that had the Pol Pot-led regime remained, the journalists in the audience would have not been able to do their job.
He also equated this to the CPP’s annual celebration of the ousting of the Khmer Rouge on January 7, saying liberation from the brutal regime enabled Cambodia’s economic growth.
“He did not attack [them]. He spoke the truth and reality and without January 7 there would be no journalists and no reporting. This is the reality of the history,” he said.
However, political commentator Cham Bunteth said the premier seemed have taken a page out of US President Donald Trump’s playbook – attacking the media to hide one’s own mistakes. Hun Sen has previously spoken of Trump’s critiques of the press in the United States as an example for Cambodia.
“I think our prime minister is learning from Donald Trump, by painting some media as fake news or against the government,” he said.
He said, given the setting, the premier could have been more statesman-like and an articulate answer on economic issues would have projected him in a more favourable light.
Additional reporting by mech dara