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Unnamed sources

Unnamed sources

The Editor,

I am writing to express my concern and disappointment about the practice of English

language newspapers in Phnom Penh of increasingly allowing unsourced quotes. I will

preface my comments by saying that I understand that identifying sources in this

political environment is risky, and some people who speak off-the-record to journalists

or who request anonymity have legitimitate fears for their safety. However, I strongly

believe that generally this is not the case. One recent and glaring example was a

brief story in the Cambodia Daily (10 April, pg 8), "Int'l NGOs Weigh Response

to Attack". The journalist reported that..."An NGO representative, who

requested anonymity, said that individuals are welcome to sign the (joint) statement

at the UNCHR or the office of Medicam." I fail to see a legimitate reason for

this "cloak and dagger" approach to a public announcement. I can only imagine

that the anonymous NGO representative was not authorized to speak to the media, but

then surely it is the journalist's responsibility to locate someone who was authorized.

This type of anonymous sourcing has many direct and indirect consequences. Directly,

it is an encouragement to others to withhold their names, thus making it difficult

for journalists to get anyone to admit to saying anything. It allows people to make

statements with impunity and without accountability that can be inflammatory, inaccurate,

irresponsible, lacking in credibility or based entirely on conjecture and rumor.

It simply permits unidentified sources to say whatever they like, under the protection

of an "expert" or "observer" title. It also ensures that access

to information is limited to those select few who are "in the know" about

who the source is, encouraging the exercise of hoarding information sources. Newspapers

that allow a large number of unsourced quotes are responsible for not only perpetuating

this unprofessional practice, but also for lowering the standards of investigative

journalism. Why look for corroborative information when you can have an unsourced

statement which is widely accepted? I understand the difficulties involved with getting

accurate and truthful information in Cambodia, leading journalists to accept a quote

from an unidentified source just to get the information on the page. This is not

the answer; it is, in fact, part of the problem. Indirectly, allowing this practice

sends the message that threats to freedom of speech are both powerful and tolerated;

powerful enough to fear reprisals and tolerated perhaps in order to protect jobs

and relationships. It is time people stood up and spoke loudly and honestly about

the issues facing Cambodia, and I am confident that when people start, others will

follow.

Name withheld (only kidding).

- Sophie Pinwill, Phnom Penh.

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