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Journos face complaint over seemingly routine reporting

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Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith speaks at an event last year in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Journos face complaint over seemingly routine reporting

Two journalists for the Cambodia Daily have been named in a complaint to authorities by villagers in Ratanakkiri for asking questions about politics, with the information minister subsequently posting one of the pair’s passport details to Facebook as part of what he called a “reminder” to reporters during the election campaign.

Labelled “a bit absurd” by the newspaper’s general manager, the complaint was lodged with O’Yadav district authorities by three ethnic Jarai minority villagers from Pate commune – one of them a former opposition commune chief who recently defected to the ruling party.

The complaint, and the subsequent publication of the reporter’s details, comes on the heels of recently released media guidelines that critics have slammed as a “code of censorship” that they fear could be used to clamp down on the press ahead of the June 4 commune council vote.

According to a translation of the document, the trio complained because they were asked why villagers in the commune’s Kong Thom village had supported the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in the 2012 commune election when surrounding areas had largely voted for the ruling CPP.

“They came with bad intentions, they came to research, [and] monitor the election and incited people by not respecting the National Election Council’s law, which does not allow talking about politics during the election campaign,” it read.

Though the law does prohibit reporting about the election for a 24-hour period prior to polls opening, the media guidelines issued by the National Election Committee do not ban reporting on politics across the board.

As noted by Cambodia Daily General Manager Douglas Steele, the reporters were simply asking questions. “The complaint against The Cambodia Daily . . . is a bit absurd. Reporters asking questions about politics during an election campaign – isn’t that part of the . . . job?” Steele wrote on Facebook.

However, the lack of any obvious offence, much less a conviction, did not stop Information Minister Khieu Kanharith from uploading a photo of one of the journalist’s passports to his own Facebook, with text telling journalists to adhere to election laws and ethics guidelines during the campaign. Speaking via Facebook Messenger, Kanharith yesterday said the message was “a reminder, not accusation”.

Asked whether journalists could ask citizens about who they were supporting and why he responded: “Better ask their opinion in the subtle way. And beware of the translation. Do not get lost in translation.”

Responding to a question of whether it was appropriate to publish personal information of an individual not accused of a crime, he said: “The law didn’t prohibit it.”

One of the trio who complained, Rmam Yuot – a former Sam Rainsy Party commune chief who defected to the ruling party after being passed over for a spot on the ballot by the opposition – said he felt the questions had the potential to compromise the secrecy of his vote, despite admitting he did not actually answer them.

Provincial Election Committee head Pen Tundy said he was unaware of the issue, but noted compromising the confidentiality of a vote could attract a maximum $5,000 fine.

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