PHNOM PENH: A new independent report has found that most Cambodian journalists believe media freedom is declining in the country - and that recent closures of several media outlets is politically motivated.
The report, Challenges for Independent Media, launched by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) on Wednesday (Feb 21), found that 83 per cent of local journalists surveyed said media freedom had decreased in 2017.
Only 11 per cent of the 71 individuals interviewed believed the country’s media is heading in the right direction, down from 71 per cent in 2015.
It comes amid the “severe disruption” of four outlets deemed to be ranked in the country’s top six in terms of independence and unbiased reporting – Cambodia Daily, Voice of America Cambodia, Voice of Democracy and Radio Free Asia Khmer.
The report also recorded journalists’ increased fear of repercussions or interference when attempting to write freely and that the biggest obstacle to their work was perceived to be government control.
SPIKE IN ATTACKS AGAINST JOURNALISTS
There was also a sharp increase in the number of journalists reporting being verbally or physically attacked since 2015.
Media Director of CCIM Nop Vy said independent media still faced a lot of problems in reporting about society and the daily concerns of the people.
“If the role of independent media is harmed or restricted, we won't be able to receive or hear the voice of the victims,” he said.
“I would like the government and related parties to pay a lot more attention to the working situation of the independent media.”
The report outlined key events during 2017 that contributed to the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, including the dissolution of the national opposition.
The strength of government-aligned or controlled media outlets in the country also contributed to the reported struggles of the independent press.
Two reporters, who had in the past worked for Radio Free Asia, were charged with “espionage” and imprisoned, while two former Cambodia Daily reporters also were charged with “incitement” in 2017.
One reporter attending the launch and speaking with anonymity said that all media outlets that critique the performance of the government had challenges.
“All reporters that criticise the government have problem but those who support it have progress. This is not the spirit of media,” he said.
"NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT"
However Huy Vannak, President of the Union of Journalist Federation in Cambodia, said the situation was not a concern, because Cambodia still had better media conditions than most of its neighbours.
“Cambodia still has a lot of good points. It is nothing to worry about,” he said.
Cambodia was in 2017 ranked 132 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, down four places from 2016.
While, Freedom House ranked it 33 out of 40 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The Cambodian press was rated “not free”.
But during a discussion at the launch of the CCIM report, Huy Vannak, said the challenges journalists faced came from their own activities, both personally and with their outlets.
There are not many threats against journalists, he said, and the situation will be improved when the country’s media has higher professional standards.
“The fear will be demolished when we have knowledge, maturity and talent,” he said.
Pen Bona, President of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, disagreed with the worries about the closure of independent outlets, saying that the cases did not reflect the whole situation of the press freedom in Cambodia.
All media outlets and journalists have to follow all the existing laws, he said.
The English-language Cambodia Daily had been given a deadline of one month to pay US$6.3 million for years of back taxes.
But Kulachada Chaipipat, Advocacy Manager of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, argued that the current situation discouraged journalists to report about certain issues involving high ranking officials and corruption.
“I think this is the major concern that media here have to admit,” she said.