Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan took to Facebook on Saturday to threaten to “crush” media entities that endanger “peace and stability”, citing US President Donald Trump’s treatment of the press as a justification for the warning.
Specifically naming news services Voice of Democracy, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, the government spokesman told all “foreign agents” to “consider a new use of airtime as well as published stories” or risk being dismantled.
In the post, Siphan referenced the recent White House decision to exclude certain media outlets like CNN and the New York Times from attending a meeting in the press secretary’s office on Thursday.
“Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants … sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation,” Siphan wrote in an apparent reference to Trump’s tendency to label news as “fake”.
“Freedom of expression must be located within the domain of the law and take into consideration national interests and peace. The president’s decision has nothing to do with democracy or freedom of expression,” Siphan continued.
Reached on the phone yesterday, Siphan doubled down on his comments, saying they were a “warning to return to professionalism and responsibility”.
When asked what would happen to a media outlet that does not heed this warning, Siphan said “Shut it down, very simple. Expel them”.
“We wish to see diversity of ideas, but we are one nation and must be all together,” he added.
Ouk Kimseng, spokesman for the Ministry of Information, supported Siphan’s comments. “Any article or writing that leads to destabilisation might face these consequences,” he said, defining “destabilisation” as anything that incites or lures people to commit a crime.
The threats to media outlets were met with alarm by democracy advocates. Neb Sinthay, director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute, said these comments are a “big concern”.
“I don’t believe the professional media harms the country . . . in general, they serve the best interest of society,” said Sinthay.
“Cambodia is really restricted for freedom of expression . . . we are worried about the human rights aspect,” he added.
His concerns were echoed by Wan-Hea Lee, of the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Any measures to censure or arbitrarily shut down media outlets would be inconsistent with Cambodian laws and policies,” she said.
“With respect to the comment regarding foreign-funded media outlets, it should be noted that the Press Law allows foreigners to own Khmer-language newspapers,” Lee added.
Representatives from the US Embassy declined to comment, as did VOD director Nop Vy and Jeevita Sun, senior editor at RFA. The US provides direct funding to VOA and RFA.