THE Ministry of Information has approved a subdecree that both journalists and legal
experts say will infringe on constitutionally guaranteed press freedom.
The subdecree specifies professional requirements for prospective newspaper and magazine
publishers. It also obliges publishers to submit documents to the Ministry detailing
the publications' organizational structure and editorial focus - politics, economics,
sports or culture.
In addition, the subdecree introduces a mandatory licensing system requiring newspapers
to renew their licenses annually and magazines every two years. Granting of licenses
depends on publishers providing a list of specific information about the publication.
When the press law was passed in 1995, the National Assembly purposely deleted a
The subdecree's attempt to qualify Article 12 of the 1995 press law, which makes
it a crime for journalists to publish information "which may affect national
security or political stability", is also seen as a problem.
Article 12 has always caused concern that a lack of definition of "national
security" and "political stability" created the potential for misuse
Although the subdecree was intended to define the terms, journalists and lawyers
say the definitions remain unclear. Additionally, they say, the subdecree introduces
new provisions that may intimidate many journalists.
"I think this subdecree is not so good; it limits the freedom of press and it
will put a lot more pressure on Cambodian journalists," says Um Sarin, chairman
of the Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists.
Sarin is backed by a human rights lawyer who specializes in Asian press issues. He
agrees that some provisions in the subdecree can lead to self-censorship.
"These are exactly the kind of provisions that have been misused in other Asian
countries," the lawyer said.
The Secretary of State for the Ministry of Information, Khieu Kanharith, denies that
the proposed licensing system will infringe on press freedom.
"The subdecree does not allow us to prohibit a newspaper from publishing,"
he says. "Besides, the renewal of the licenses will happen automatically."
Kanharith is not concerned about the subdecree's imposition of requirements that
a new publisher must be 25 years old, in possession of 2.5 million riels and a formal
mental health certificate.
The subdecree also imposes new educational requirements on prospective publishers.
Publishers must have a high school diploma and a year of journalism education or
a university degree and three months of journalism education and work experience,
or a certified three years of work experience in journalism or five years in photography.
"This is the proposal from the journalists themselves," Kanharith says.
"I never get complaints about this point from Cambodian journalists, only from
Nevertheless, Sarin has misgivings about the professional requirements.
"There is no need to ask for professional requirements," he says. "Many
people in Cambodia do not have time to go to school and we should not limit the people
who can be a publisher".
The provisions are on shaky legal ground. Normally subdecrees approved by the Council
of Ministers can only elaborate on laws passed by the National Assembly.
However, Kanharith prefers to introduce the new provisions in a subdecree.
"It is easier to revise if we want to change something," he said. "And
if the journalists are opposed to the requirement of qualifications, we will just
take it out."