- What are the main challenges facing press freedom, particularly since the shutdown of independent media outlets starting in 2017 and the ongoing crackdown on social media?
The safety and security of independent journalists are facing a lot of challenges as they fulfil their duties. These challenges include discrimination, intimidation, imprisonments, accusations, harassment and attacks on journalist. There are court cases against journalists including an editor-in-chief of TV Facebook, who is an outstanding social media broadcaster. There is no media pluralism, all of radio FM frequencies still are under control by the government. So, people living in rural areas cannot access independent information.
- Recently new emergency laws in Cambodia have been passed under the Covid-19 pretext, granting Cambodia’s leadership vast new powers. How will these laws affect press freedom?
The law also allows the government to monitor access to information through all forms of telecommunications, as well as restrict and ban people from spreading information that it deems capable of causing “fear to the public, chaos, damage to national security or misunderstandings about the state of emergency.” Authorities have already begun targeting, arresting and educating at least 17 social media users from January to the end of March by accused them posting “fake news” about the Covid-19. At least four Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) activists among them have been accused on the grounds of ‘incitement’ and were detained in prison. Others were released after they were ‘educated’ by authorities. Editor-in-chief of TV Facebook has also been arrested because of publishing and commenting on speeches released by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen.
- We have seen an increase in cooperation between China and Cambodia, and in the media space, there is the launch of the Cambodia-China Journalist Association (CCJA). Can you elaborate on the impact of the influence of China on the press freedom in Cambodia?
China has been influential with Cambodia media outlets and journalist associations. A Chinese company provides support to a TV station, the new TV channel Nice TV, which is located in the building of the Ministry of Interior and is under the supervision of this ministry. A Chinese company has joined investment with a tycoon named Kit Meng. Kit Meng is a president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and owns three big TV stations: CNC, CTN and My TV. The TV stations have less coverage on the impact from the electricity dump project at north-eastern Cambodia. Like you have mentioned, the new media association has been established in order to promote trade between Cambodia and China rather than promote press freedom and protect the work of professional journalists.
- Vital amendments to the Press Law have been a long time coming. What’s the current status of these amendments?
No progress yet. There is only the willing intent of Cambodia’s prime minister and this been echoed by officers of the Ministry of Information.