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Press Law Submitted to Council of Ministers

Press Law Submitted to Council of Ministers

Information Minister Ieng Mouly hoped to submit the new press law to the Royal

Government's Council of Ministers on Jan 26.

If and when accepted the

press law will replace the current law put in place by the former State of

Cambodia government. Though it has not been enforced since its re-institution,

many human rights observers in Phnom Penh consider the SOC law repressive and

unconstitutional.

Mouly spoke to the UNESCO organized and funded

journalism class being taught at the Ministry of Information and gave a sketch

of the press law that he intends to submit to the Council of

Ministers.

Pending approval or revision by the Council, the press law

will go to relevant commissions of the National Assembly and finally to the

National Assembly itself for a vote. The National Assembly is in recess until

April.

Mouly said the law has two parts. In the first part the law

focuses on the rights of journalists and of the press. In the second part,

responsibilities of journalists are indicated. Among the rights of journalists

are a guarantee of the confidentiality of sources. Among the journalist's

responsibilities are the requirement to form an independent press association

and to follow a code of ethics.

In an interview with the Post on Jan. 25,

Mouly said that his own private view is that there should be no pre-publication

censorship allowed by the law. "But I am not sure whether the rest of the

Council of Ministers will fully agree with me," he said.

Mouly indicated

that "they may want to restrict some dissemination of publications if there are

problems relating to national security, relations with other countries, or the

privacy of individuals, for example those facing trial."

A major

criticism of the current press law is that it contains many provisions which

allow the government to shut down presses and confiscate printed material before

they are disseminated.

Pointing to these provisions, one human rights

advocate and expert on press law said, [The SOC law] "is a nightmare, it is

clearly a repressive instrument."

Mouly said the law would give reporters

the privilege of access to official proceedings, minutes of meetings, and

government records when such access "does not violate national security,

endanger relationships with other countries, and does not violate the privacy of

individuals."

The second part of the law proposed by the Ministry

stipulates that journalists "must follow an ethical code." Mouly said that "the

code written by the International Federation of Journalists is an appropriate

code."

Further, journalists must "form an independent association whose

representatives must be democratically elected and whose statues must be adopted

by a vote of the membership." In addition, the law will "require that the

association have a body to accept complaints from people and to settle

disputes."

When asked if either he or any member of the Ministry of

Information would be a member of the Journalists Association, Mouly answered:

"It would be very difficult for the association to be truly independent if

members of the government were members of the association."

In a related

story, the Khmer human rights NGO, Vigilance, held the second of two historic

meetings between Khmer press and Khmer human rights organizations to discuss

Cambodia's press law this past week.

Phuong Sith, the president of

Vigilance, said the group "reached general agreement that they should have the

freedom to express their ideas and that this should not be denied. If something

was a fact, they should say it.

"However," he said, "there should be a

limit on the freedom of expression and of the press. The press should not be

allowed to publish facts that might hurt national security..Further, the group

agreed that the government can regulate to punish slander and libel."

Khmer newspapers and human rights organizations asked that they be

consulted on the law before it is enacted. Phuong Sith said that human rights

groups and Khmer Journalist Association are asking "to see the draft law in

order to comment on it and request that there be public hearings before the law

is accepted."

When Minister Ieng Mouly was asked by the Post whether

there would be public hearings on the new press law he said: "I would be happy

to meet with the Cambodian Press Association if they ask me to come and talk

about the law."

The two meetings of the Journalist's Association were

motivated by the issuance of the press law by the Royal Government of Cambodia's

Council of Ministers.

At this second meeting, Brad Adams, a lawyer and

expert on press law, told the meeting that there has been a convergence

internationally in opinion on the principles that national press laws should

follow.

Adams said that whatever restrictions were embodied in the press

law, "they should be specific, not general." And "wherever prohibitions are

involved, such prohibitions must advance a compelling national interest.

Whatever restriction is imposed, the least restrictive language possible should

be used," he said.

The second constraint was perhaps the most difficult

for many countries, said Adams. "Governments tend to confuse the interest of the

government, that is those who hold power at a given moment, with the national

interest, that is the interest of the nation as a whole." It is the later

interest that should be appealed to when press prohibitions are imposed by law,

he said.

Adams told gathered journalists and human rights advocates that

whatever regulation was accepted in the press law, it should not allow

pre-publication censorship of the press.

The current law allows the

government to shut down newspapers prior to the distribution of its

publications.

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