|Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen greets journalists during his annual meeting with the press on Koh Pich, Phnom Penh on Jan 21, 2018. (Photo: Ouch Sony)|
Report well and stay out of trouble: Cambodia's Hun Sen tells journalists ahead of election
Channel NewsAsia | 22 January 2018
Months before a general election in Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen instructed journalists to report the truth and stop insulting people if they do not wish to get in trouble.
The prime minister, whose ruling Cambodian People’s Party is gearing up for a general election in July, emphasised how journalists should report the situation in Cambodia without getting themselves in trouble, which he compared to “a hot place”.
“Hot or cool, it’s up to journalists. If you want to get hot, just write to insult. Someone will file a complaint and legal consequences will ensue. But if you want to stay cool, just write in a cool way,” the prime minister said on Sunday (Jan 21) when addressing members of the press who gathered at Koh Pich for an annual meeting with him.
His speech came amid the government’s anti-US campaign and crackdown on what it considers illegitimate media outlets.
Last year saw the closure of US-owned Cambodia Daily – a bilingual newspaper that openly reported about corruption among politicians – and various radio stations with links to American media outlets. The reasons, according to the government, varied from their inability to pay tax to a lack of correct licences. However, there are critics who view these claims as the government’s method of silencing critical media ahead of the general polls.
Besides the media industry, Cambodia also witnessed a change in its political landscape recently, with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party dissolved by the Supreme Court in November and its leader Kem Sokha jailed for treason.
The party was accused by the government of working with the United States to overthrow the current administration and incite chaos in Cambodia. As a result, more than 100 senior members of the CNRP were banned from politics for five years and no appeal was allowed.
This means the main opposition party will not be contesting in the July election.
In its latest World Report, Human Rights Watch said the crackdown on independent media and the opposition party in Cambodia “is likely motivated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s anxiety” about the upcoming election.
It also cited the arrests of at least 35 opposition and civil society leaders since July 2015 as well as “politically motivated charges” against civil society leaders.
“The arbitrary arrests and other abuse appear aimed at preventing a victory by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which made electoral gains during the 2013 national elections and the 2017 commune elections,” said the report.
“Throughout 2017 the government continued to deny Cambodians the right to free speech.”
For Hun Sen however, the statement is untrue. He said many media outlets had to cease their operations because they violated the law.
“They conducted businesses without paying tax. They cheated and stayed silent, with no respect for Cambodian law. When they were detected, they made themselves look like victims to seek pity from foreign governments,” he told reporters.
The prime minister also praised US President Donald Trump for his actions against “fake news”, calling them “the trophy for fake and lying media”.
So instead of slamming people in their reports, Hun Sen advised Cambodian journalists to take the middle path, comparing it to a warm bath – the temperature everyone enjoys.
“We don’t take a bath only with hot or cold water; we mix it together. Both good news and bad news must be there. Only then we’ll have a real mirror that reflect reality,” he said.
Concluding his speech, the 65-year-old prime minister, who celebrated 33 years in power last week, reminded members of the press of their most important task.
“Dare say the truth. We need all the voices. But insults aren’t part of a democratic process.”