Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Press freedom in ‘tragic decline’: report

Press freedom in ‘tragic decline’: report

Former RFA reporters Oun Chhin (centre, back) and Yeang Socheameta (left in blue shirt) are escorted by officials after being arrested last November. A new report has found freedom of the press in ‘tragic decline’ in Cambodia
Former RFA reporters Oun Chhin (centre, back) and Yeang Socheameta (left in blue shirt) are escorted by officials after being arrested last November. A new report has found freedom of the press in ‘tragic decline’ in Cambodia Pha Lina

Press freedom in ‘tragic decline’: report

Freedom of the press has been on a “tragic decline” in Cambodia, with independent media outlets now in “ruins as a result of constant depredation by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime”, according to a new report published this week by international watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The report was compiled from an October Reporters Without Borders’ investigation carried out by Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific desk, and was published on Tuesday.

The authors view last year’s commune elections as the turning point, whereby the ruling party reacted to a strong showing by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in June by targeting the press.

“Hun Sen sensed the danger and saw the need to rein in the media,” they wrote.

A few months later, the Cambodia Daily was shuttered after a widely criticised tax dispute, more than a dozen radio stations that broadcasted Radio Free Asia and Voice of America were shut down, and RFA pulled its in-country operations.

In the same month in which the CNRP was dissolved by the government, two former RFA journalists were arrested on charges of “espionage” and remain in prison without a trial.

Independent media is in “greater danger now in Cambodia than at any other time in its recent history, which still bears the deep scars of the Khmer Rouge era”, an RSF statement released alongside the report says. “The fight for the freedom to inform in Cambodia must therefore be pursued at all costs.”

Local journalist Sun Narin said the report reflects the reality of the current situation in Cambodia, with the targeting of journalists not only bringing fear within the industry, but rippling outwards among the public.

“People in general are also afraid of expressing their opinion,” he said.

“Even I, myself, I’m a little bit afraid of meeting with former CNRP officials because the [government] officials can accuse me anytime,” he said.

Ed Legaspi, executive director of the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Press Alliance, said the outlook was “very bleak” for press freedom, especially for traditional media.

The report also documents the stranglehold on local media by a small group of businesspeople linked to the Cambodian People’s Party or who are government officials themselves, especially in broadcast media.

“The combined ratings of just four TV channels represent 80 [percent] of the country’s viewers and all of these channels are owned by people who are either members of the government or its advisers,” the report reads.

“Government members or advisers own eight of the ten leading TV channels.”

Among these powerful players is Hun Mana, head of Bayon Media Group, which owns the country’s biggest TV channel, Bayon TV. Meanwhile, Senate President and CPP Vice President Say Chhum owns newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea, as well as several TV and radio stations.

For San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, the potential impact of such a media landscape is immense. “The absence of independent media may contribute to [increased] corruption and poor public performance,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Where is Cambodia’s exit strategy that can save the economy?

    With the prospect of being slammed by a double whammy, the government is working on an economic recovery plan to deliver it from Covid-19 and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms scheme in the next two to three years Cambodia is

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Kingdom, UN discuss rights

    A year after Cambodia received 198 recommendations from UN member countries, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR-Cambodia) met with the Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC) to discuss following-up on the Kingdom’s third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and