"Du sa att inte fler journalister skulle fängslas, Premiärministern?"
As a judge acquitted Sok Serey, a reporter for Radio Free Asia’s Khmer-language service, on charges of disinformation and defamation, Reporters Without Borders today released a report on media freedom in Cambodia.
A Reporters Without Borders representative stressed the importance of decriminalising press offences to the information minister during a visit to Cambodia last December, when he met with government officials, journalists and civil society leaders.
Four years after Prime Minister Hun Sen promised that Cambodian journalists would not be jailed for what they write, several journalists are in prison or are facing criminal charges in connection with their work. Reporters Without Borders visited newspaper editor Hang Chakra in the prison where he is serving a one-year jail term for a story about senior government officials.
Entitled “Prime Minister, you promised that no more journalists would go to prison,” the press freedom organisation’s report is based on the findings of last December’s visit. It deplores the lack of diversity in the broadcast media and the fact that government officials are bringing more and more legal actions against the press.
The report also tries to answer two main questions: why did Hun Sen break his word and what impact will the imminent introduction of a new criminal code have on media legislation?
The reform of the criminal code was passed by the national assembly and the senate in October 2009 without the parliamentary opposition having any real say in the process. “Its deep-seated changes to the legal system will necessarily have repercussions for free expression and media freedom,” the report says, adding that “the lack of transparency surrounding the final draft is worrying the press and human rights activists.”
The report also looks at the past murders of journalists that are still unpunished, the problems resulting from fact that most journalists are very badly paid, the problem of corruption and the fate of Ros Sokhet, another journalist who is in prison.
In its recommendations, Reporters Without Borders urges the Cambodian government to reinforce the editorial freedom of the state media and to create an independent media regulatory body with responsibility for allocating licences to radio and TV stations.