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Three ministries set up web-monitoring group to look out for ‘fake news’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A woman looks at videos posted to a social media website in Phnom Penh on Monday. The government announced establishing an interministry working group to monitor the internet, purportedly to keep an eye out for fake news. Heng Chivoan

Three ministries set up web-monitoring group to look out for ‘fake news’

The Cambodian government will monitor all news and social networking sites with immediate effect, “to prevent the spread of information that can cause social chaos and threaten national security”.

In a prakas (a regulation adopted by a minister) signed on May 23 by the ministers of information, interior, and post and telecommunication, it was noted that officials from the three ministries will form an interministry working group to investigate any online media platforms that spread “fake news” before taking appropriate action under the Kingdom’s laws.

“The prakas’s purpose is to prevent . . . the spreading of information – whether in the form of text, voice, picture, video or other forms of communication – that would cause chaos and threaten national security, harm relations with other countries, the national economy, public order, and discriminate against the cultural integrity of the country,” it said.

It added that the prakas was needed in order to implement the monitoring of websites and social networking sites that operate in Cambodia.

The regulation, which consists of 10 notices, determines the exact role each ministry will play in its implementation.

For instance, the Ministry of Information will monitor viral content on websites and other social media platforms and act against those considered in breach of the law.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication will act against unlicensed internet service providers, as well as requiring the registered ones to have software and tools that filter and block any social media account or page that broadcasts illegally.

The Ministry of Interior will be responsible for ascertaining the online pages and social media networks that disseminate fake news and illegal broadcasts, which it deems threaten national defence and security. It will then inform the relevant ministries to take action.

Im Vutha, director of Telecom Regulator of Cambodia (TRC), which is the department coordinating the interministry working group, said on Monday the purpose of issuing the prakas is not related to any “crackdown on internet freedom or the July 29 national elections”.

He said using the internet to spread baseless and fake news is irresponsible and harmed the nation’s development.

“The prakas serves to warn internet users to verify the information they post online to ensure it is verified and true.

“This will benefit the public and help stop the sharing of ‘provocative information’ that can cause social chaos.

“People can do whatever they desire . . . they can share whatever information they want, but just make sure it is not fake or against the law,” he said.

Ministry of Information spokesman Ouk Kimseng said countries around the world are considering draft laws to prevent the dissemination of fake news.

He said Thailand had very strict laws on this, and that if the country identified news outlets or social media sites that disseminated fake news, the crime is punishable by fines and up to four years in prison.

Because Cambodia doesn’t have laws that prevent the publication of fake news, the three ministries will work together as the initial step, Kimseng said.

“In fact, this is something we have been discussing and preparing for a long time. We need to monitor the internet.

“So far, we see the dissemination of fake news online and through publications. So, the purpose of the three ministries working together is to stop such offences from being committed,” he said.

“We consider the use of insulting words against leaders or any individual as affecting their reputation and public image. Such matters cannot be considered as an expression of opinion.”

Director of the Cambodian Centre for Applied Philosophy and Ethics Pa Chanroeun said the current use of social network, especially Facebook, is polluted by fake news that is also of unclear origin.

Those who use such fake news for political motives, altered or edited images, videos, and content to cause hatred and commit scams are a cause of much worry. Hence, it required some action to resolve, he said.

However, he added: “But I think the solution is not to create a working group that may oppress the rights of the people to voice their opinions. Such rights are enshrined by various institutions.

“My greatest fear is that the working group will be used as a tool to threaten the rights of the people to have freedom of opinion and information,” he said.

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) representative Cheam Channy said the prakas was a violation of an individual’s right to freedom of expression of opinion.

Human rights group Adhoc’s spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna expressed concern over the latest measures imposed by the goverment.

“This is a new worry. We see freedom of expression as getting more controlled. It will cause problems for the people as social platforms are very popular among Cambodians,” he said.

However, the president of the Union of Journalists Federation of Cambodia, Huy Vannak, said the new regulation is good because social networking is widespread in Cambodia and is a major cause of fake news.

“We view the government’s action as preserving internet freedom and not restricting it. It may be inconvenient to some, but it causes the users of social platforms to be more considerate and careful when disseminating information.

“The move is a step in the right direction to strengthen freedom of expression. There have been cases when the King and leaders have been insulted, and this caused unrest. So preventing a repeat of such matters makes for a better society,” he said.

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