A day before the funeral procession of slain political analyst Kem Ley, Cambodia’s television outlets were ordered by the government not to broadcast “images and content related to murder”.
In a group messaging app, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Svay Sitha wrote: “Please all state and private TV stations stop, from now on, [broadcasting] both images and content related to murder [in Cambodia]”. The directive demanded “all stations cooperate and implement this regulation thoroughly”.
Television journalist Thai Sothea yesterday criticised the order on Facebook. “How do you want to impress your audience when you do very little or not do anything at all about [yesterday’s] funeral procession of a man well respected and beloved by millions of people across the country?”
The procession – which attracted thousands of mourners – was widely covered by local and international media.
But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the message was simply intended to stop media outlets from publishing pictures of gruesome deaths, though the text made no mention of traffic accidents or suicides.
“We should learn from the past killings . . . and if we don’t show those violent images, all the killing shall be away from Cambodian minds.”
Siphan claimed it was a long-term mission of the Ministry of Information and the proximity to Kem Ley’s funeral was a coincidence.
He said while the media had the right to disseminate information, public taste should dictate which images were shown and that the media should “promote peace”, not “polarise the public”.
Huy Vannak, news editor at Cambodian News Channel, said he welcomed the directive and had already opted to broadcast photographs of victims taken while they were still alive, not their dead bodies.
“It means you kill them twice if you don’t abide by the morals in the code of ethics,” he said.
While Moeun Chhean Naridh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, agreed that the code of ethics bound journalists not to violate victims’ dignity, he yesterday questioned the timing.
“I don’t know why they issued this directive now. I think it must be related to the popularity of Kem Ley,” he said. “The murder of Kem Ley is a high-profile murder; it is in the public interest, so even though the media ethics forbid journalists from showing gruesome images of victims of murder or rape . . . we sometimes can cross the line to serve the public interest.”