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Protests sideline press law

Protests sideline press law

T

HE Royal Government has withdrawn the draft press law from consideration by the

National Assembly after domestic and international pressure characterized the

law as oppressive. Sources in the Information Ministry say that the law will be

"looked at again."

There was no public organization of Assembly Members

against the law, and no competing draft was submitted as was the case with the

Council of Magistracy Law.

It is not known when the press law will next

be considered. Like the Council of Magistracy Law, withdrawn also from Assembly

consideration, there is as of press time no scheduled review.

The

withdrawal followed the movement of the law down the National Assembly's agenda

from first to near last.

The release of the draft press law prompted a

press conference by the Khmer Journalist's Association (KJA). The discussion

focused on possible reactions by the KJA to the law. Critical letters to the

Royal Government from Human Rights Watch and the International Center Against

Censorship were also discussed, as was the KJA's own press release.

While the law states that the press has the right to maintain the

confidentiality of its sources, prohibits pre-publication censorship, and

stipulates that the press organization be independent of the government, several

of its articles have become the focus of domestic and international

criticism.

A large measure of the criticism is focused on ambiguous

wording. Some analysts suggest that this may simply be the result of poor

drafting. But they also say: "To the degree that ambiguities work in the favor

of the government and against the possibility of a free press, the law may be

repressive, even if unintentionally so."

For example Article 6 stipulates

that "An independent press body ... shall be established." The International

Center Against Censorship, has criticized the article for implying that only one

press association will be allowed in Cambodia. Legal analysts in Phnom Penh

believe that this may violate the freedom of association, and would potentially

allow established journalists to exclude others. Foreign journalists and

freelance journalists might be most at risk.

In Article 13, the Ministry

of Information is empowered to suspend publication of material that "affect

security or public order." While national security is defined as "the

territorial integrity or continued existence of the Kingdom of Cambodia," public

order is not defined.

One analyst said: "Leaving the term public order

undefined is particularly dangerous as it is regularly used as the legal basis

to close down the press by undemocratic governments around the

world."

Article 5 of the Law which specifies the rights of journalists to

obtain information from the government is criticized for giving relevant

Ministries to much power to deny requests for information. Journalists are given

no recourse to Ministry denial. Appeals to judicial mediation, for example, are

not provided for.

Article 16 regulates the opening of a printing center

or a bookstore. In the absence of the definition of either, ambiguity favors

repression. One international analyst said: "This article is rooted in the

mentality of a police state and should be deleted."

Article 11 mandates

that newspapers must retract any picture, article, text, drawing, or photograph

that any person believes to be defamatory, or which they believe affects their

reputation. The retraction must be published within 15 days and occupy the same

space the offending item did. Critics of the law point out the retraction is

required even if the offending publication published the truth.

The draft

press law may represent a threat to foreign owned newspapers and the importation

of Khmer newspapers printed abroad.

Article 17 says: "The publication

and selling of information imported from abroad for the purpose of commerce must

receive permission from the Ministry of Information in advance of its

importation." There is no process to appeal an adverse ruling in the

law.

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