The Ministry of Information yesterday questioned foreign-backed and English-language publications in the Kingdom, including the Post, over why they had not complied with a December letter asking them to use honorifics bestowed on Cambodian leaders, threatening “action” including potentially pulling licences if non-compliance continued.
Sixteen foreign news outlets, including radio, newspaper and wire services, were asked why they were not using honorific titles given to political leaders and if there were any objections or difficulty to using them.
“We are meeting today to find out from all of you what are the difficulties and why are you not using the titles, bestowed by the King, for top leaders in your media outlets?” said Ouk Kimseng, adviser and spokesman to the ministry, addressing participants at the meeting.
In December, the ministry issued a letter asking all media outlets to use the royally bestowed title of “samdech” when referring to King Norodom Sihamoni and political leaders, including Prime Minister Hun Sen and Heng Samrin.
The title “samdech”, the ministry said, meant “outstanding leadership and love from the people” and had legal value, a “kind of respect”, when referring to these people. At the time, Kimseng said that there were no regulations to punish outlets that did not comply with the “samdech” directive.
But Phos Sovan, director-general at the General Department of Information and Broadcasting, yesterday told attending news organisations that the ministry will now take “action” on the matter, including potentially rescinding licences, adding that local outlets had already complied.
“When they come to request a license from ministry, they promise to obey the conditions of the ministry, but when the ministry suggests using the title of top leaders in their media, they do not obey it,” Sovan said.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, who heads the Cambodian Institute of Media Studies, said it was unreasonable to impose those types of regulations on independent media publications, adding that the “samdech” directive should be optional.
“The government has taken to stereotype all publications that do not support them,” he said. “Their policy is: if you are not on our side, then you are not independent.”
He said while local-language papers could use the honorific titles, they would make no sense to readers of foreign publications. “Even the King, who has a long line of titles, has never asked for anyone to put his entire title,” he added.
Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said that while there were no laws to enforce the usage of “samdech”, it was a matter of tradition. “Each country always has their own traditions and customs,” he said, “I don’t think it will affect their professionalism [to use these titles].”