The government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit has sought the services of Russia’s government-owned news agency to help prevent a “colour revolution”, spokesperson Tith Sothea confirmed yesterday.
The Russian News Agency, better known as TASS, is an integral part of President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine and has repeatedly been accused of fabricating reports, especially about the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Svay Sitha, head of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PQRU), proposed TASS provide training on news writing skills in a meeting with TASS general director Sergey Mikhaylov on Friday. The reason, according to a statement published on the PQRU website, was because “Russia has many years of experience of successfully preventing colour revolution and in that the press has played an important role in maintaining social stability”.
“The biggest enemy of [a] colour revolution is showing and explaining to the public, so they know and see the truth,” Sitha said in the statement.
The statement outlined Sitha’s belief that training from the Russian government media group would help disseminate information about the achievements of the government and “prevent any exaggeration and fake news which is contrary to the truth” and designed to “create chaos in society”.
Sothea yesterday confirmed Mikhaylov had “welcomed” the proposal but no formal deal had been made. Mikhaylov and other TASS personnel did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Moeun Chhean Naridh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said the strength of a democracy was measured on its level of press freedom, and choosing Russia for a tutor was a dubious decision. “In a truly democratic society, I think we will not want an international media organisation like the Russian New Agency to provide this kind of training,” Naridh said.
“We know that the Russian society claims to be democratic, but . . . there are various restrictions on rights and freedoms.”
He noted, however, the PQRU and TASS were “birds of the same feather”.
“I don’t think [PQRU] would want to have training or advice from real professional media organisations, like AP or Reuters, because they don’t share the same ideology or news values,” he said.
In an email, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson suggested the proposed media training course be dubbed “building credible sounding narratives with lies”, given TASS’ spin on stories about eastern Ukraine. “Any way you look at it, this is not going to increase the truth quotient in the government’s reactions to queries by reporters.”