A government official has said that Cambodia dropping one place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2019 press freedom index did not “reflect the reality” of the media situation in the Kingdom.
Paris-based press freedom monitoring non-governmental organisation RSF published its 2019 World Press Freedom Index – A Cycle of Fear report last Thursday, in which Cambodia fell from 142 of 180 countries last year to 143rd this year.
“Worried by the prospect of losing the July 2018 general elections after more than 30 years in power, Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a pre-emptive war against the media in which around 30 radio stations were silenced and Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper that had helped to nurture Cambodia’s fragile democracy, was forced to close.
“As a result of this clean sweep, Cambodians now only have access to news provided by major media groups directly linked to Hun Sen, such as the online news agency Fresh News, which pumps out pro-government propaganda,” the report says in its section on the Kingdom titled Ruling Party Eliminates Critical Media.
Cambodia was last ranked 143rd by RSF in 2013. Its highest position was in 2016 when the Kingdom was placed 128 out of 180. RSF said censorship in Cambodia was the result of “China’s growing influence”.
Pen Bona, the president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) and the editor-in-chief of television station PNN, said RSF’s reasoning was nothing new.
“They based their score on the closure of the Cambodia Daily, Radio Free Asia and the change of ownership of The Phnom Penh Post. And they said all of this meant [last year’s] national elections went under-reported; when the elections went under-reported, they dropped the ranking for Cambodia – this sounds illogical,” he said.
Bona said Cambodia had made big progress in terms of press freedom over the past 15 years. Cambodia did not have any reporters killed or injured in wars as had occurred in other countries. However, he said there was still room for journalists to improve themselves professionally.
“What journalists should do is strengthen their professionalism, give value to their job and respect the code of conduct. This will promote freedom of the press in Cambodia. What rank RSF gave us is up to them,” he said.
Ministry of Information spokesman Meas Sophorn said press freedom was respected in Cambodia as part of a multi-party democracy. He added that Prime Minister Hun Sen had promoted press freedom in Cambodia by organising every year a forum with journalists and other members of the media.
“The ranking for Cambodia does not reflect the reality of overall press freedom,” he said.
Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said the methodology used by RSF to rank press freedom was questionable.
“They define independent media as that which is critical of the government and supports opposition groups. For media that covers all aspects and is neutral, maybe they don’t call that independent,” he said.