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

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and