The Ministry of Information on February 13 annulled the licence of online news outlet VOD, which was overseen by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM), for “gross professional misconduct” in relation to their recent reporting on the authorisation of the Kingdom’s disaster relief to quake-hit Turkiye.

The licence, issued by the ministry’s General Department of Information and Broadcasting on December 15, 2021, permitted CCIM to engage in activities in the information sector.

“[VOD] seriously abused the journalist profession and tarnished the honour and prestige of the government, as they refused to run corrections in accordance with the provisions of the press law,” it said in the letter.

VOD, which published in both Khmer and English and also produced radio programmes, claimed in its February 9 report that Hun Manet – deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodia Armed Forces (RCAF) and future prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) – had signed off on a government decision to send $100,000 in aid to Turkiye (formerly spelled Turkey) on his father’s behalf.

Hun Sen last gave VOD 24 hours on February 12 to issue a public apology, but eventually gave the revocation order after rejecting its letter expressing “regret” for confusions caused by the article and requesting tolerance later that day. He said the word “regret” used in the letter – submitted to him through his cabinet on the evening of February 12 – did not amount to an apology.

Following the rejection, VOD issued another letter dated February 12 but made public on its official Facebook page in the early hours of February 13, this time with an explicit apology, a move deemed by the premier as being “too little, too late”.

“Why didn’t you issue an apology earlier [on February 12] instead of doing so past midnight? You cared more about your image and dared not make an apology until after you got slapped in the face,” he said in reference to his order to revoke the licence.

“As the prime minister, my decision is now final,” he said.

Hun Sen told the staff of VOD who lost their jobs to blame their leadership or the journalist who made the mistake of “spreading slanderous news” and did not take responsibility.

VOD’s second letter said it very much regretted disseminating information affecting the honour of Manet and the government.

“VOD begs your pardon for having published the article,” it said.

Its first letter to Hun Sen said it “regretted” causing confusion with the article by saying that Manet had acted on behalf of his father in signing the document authorising the donation of funds for earthquake relief to Turkiye.

“VOD wishes to express its regrets … if any unintentional wrongs were committed against the prime minister and [Manet],” read the letter.

In his rejection, Hun Sen rhetorically asked if VOD’s clarification intended to blame any government officials. He advised government spokesman Phay Siphan to look into the possibility of filing a court complaint as the author initially identified him as the source for the information.

“To avoid prolonging this, I’ve decided not to accept their ‘regret’ that they expressed instead of making an apology … As a government leader, I decide to end this matter and order the ministry to revoke the licence, effective 10am on February 13, 2023,” Hun Sen wrote on his official Facebook page.

Hun Sen also advised the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration and relevant institutions to help uphold public order and protect the property of VOD.

“We just closed down VOD as a publication, but that doesn’t affect their property. Foreign friends who funded VOD, please divert your funds to other countries and help them instead. Unemployed staff at VOD, please look for jobs elsewhere,” he said.