Cambodia introduced its Press Law in 1995 to regulate various media such as television, newspapers and radio. However, the current regulation does not govern new forms of digital media and lacks adequate scope to cover the technological changes that have impacted the media since its introduction over two decades ago. Currently Cambodia has around 700 media outlets, including a growing number of online media outlets.
Cambodia’s Information Minister, Khieu Kanharith, addressed a forum of journalists in Phnom Penh on October 24 on the issue of press law reform, saying a ministry working group would consider opinions shared by journalists while also committing to “not close the door” in drafting a new law.
The Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) organised the forum in cooperation with the Ministry of Information, with and support from IFJ, to gather inputs from journalists and press associations in drafting amendments to the Press Law.
The IFJ said a revised law should ensure that government officials respect journalists’ right to do their jobs safely and gather information. This should include clear understanding on their right to information in a timely manner and allow them to cover stories based on the public interests and right to know.
The IFJ said: “Basic but critical reforms are necessary right now to make Cambodia’s press law contemporary, relevant and consistent with the principles of establishing, supporting and maintaining a free media in Cambodia.”
As with many such laws in the region, the legal regime which regulates the press in Cambodia is poorly drafted and contains numerous uncertainties and ambiguities which can be used by those in positions of power to restrict freedom of the press rather than assist it.
The IFJ said: “This is about root and branch reform for the law to be an effective contemporary regulatory framework for the operation of a free press in Cambodia.”
In addition to more robust protections for journalists, the IFJ said a new press law for Cambodia must guarantee ready and inexpensive access to government information and give emphasis to the overriding public Interest in that access.
Likewise, restrictions on access to information on security grounds must be carefully limited. Restrictions on journalists’ activity through government licensing of journalists, and media organisations should be thoroughly rejected.
Among the critical items for review in the law, the IFJ says it is imperative that the criminal defamation provisions of the press law be urgently repealed.
Other items for necessary review would be the abolition of crippling and disproportionate civil damages for alleged defamation by journalists and publishers and the establishment of a Cambodian press or media council for the effective self-regulation of the media to deal with resolution of complaints according to a code of ethics.
The IFJ welcomes the moves by Cambodia’s media and the government to actively engage in discussion on the development of a new and more robust press law for the country. This process must be open and transparent and allow for adequate time for industry consultation, media inputs and necessary amendments, it said.