Cambodia: Concerns over government arbiter on media ethics

Cambodian journalists have expressed concern that a new ethics review mechanism launched by the Camboadian government on August 2 could be used to further intimidate journalists and stifle criticism in the country. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates the Cambodian Journalists Association (CamboJA) and Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) urge the government to withdraw the mechanism and to ensure adequate representation of journalists in developing any ethics initiative in the country.

Journalists say they should be the arbiters on ethics, especially during Covid. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen walks with government officials at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh. Credit: TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP

The Ministry of Information said it set up the ‘Monitoring Committee for Journalism Ethics Practice’ to review reports and complaints from the public as well as other media and to evaluate media ethics and professional abuse among media outlets registered with the ministry.

But Cambodian journalists and rights groups are worried that such a mechanism created by the government may further intimidate journalists and stifle reporting in the already shrinking freedom of expression space in the country. Activists note that the proposed committee is dominated by senior government officials which cannot provide a forum for independent discussion on the issues. There are also fears that the committee will use its power to further target online media and social media networks.

Meas Sophorn, a ministry spokesman, said on July 26: said “This committee will reach out to heads of the ministry to examine and evaluate the practice of journalism in Cambodia and provide feedback as well as orientation to journalist on how to conduct themselves in accordance with the professional code of ethics, as well as clear ethical standards. The committee will provide guidance to journalists who violate professional ethics and adjust their performance accordingly.”

Nop Vy, executive director of the CamboJA, said the ministry should encourage inputs from journalists in regards to the function of any ethics committee. CamboJA said it was appropriate that journalist organisations be given an opportunity to conduct forums to invite the views and inputs of journalists about the establishment of any ethics committee in Cambodia.

The CAPJ said journalists and media needed greater from understanding from government on its vital role in undertaking the checks and balances for society and the vital benefit the media performs for Cambodia’s people and society, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The IFJ is extremely concerned at any efforts by the government to direct the media in ethical reporting and that industry consultation was needed. Any national body tasked with adjudicating on journalist ethics and professionalism should be led by a broad representation of the media industry, journalists, and journalist unions as well as independent leaders from civil society – and not government, the IFJ said.

The CAPJ said: “The creation of the committee make us worried that freedom of expression, the free flow of information and the space of freedom and democracy are becoming smaller and smaller.”

The CamboJA said: “We are concerned about the dominance of government officers in the committee and the transparency among the members. It is unacceptable if the committee plans to issue any regulations to limit journalist freedom.”

The IFJ said: “The idea that an arbiter of journalism ethics in Cambodia can be led by government and politicians is an affront to independent journalism and shows a clear and blatant misunderstanding of the functioning of a free and independent media. International standards on press ethics is for industry-led initiatives to ensure transparency and the full and free functioning of the media without government intimidation or intervention. The IFJ calls for the urgent withdrawal of the initiative to allow for urgent review and industry consultation.”

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The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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