Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
- Media freedom remained restricted in 2009 as the government continued to crack down on journalists through deliberate campaigns aimed at narrowing the space for free expression. Although violence against reporters lessened compared with 2008, when an opposition journalist and his son were killed in the run-up to national elections, the government increasingly used the courts as a means of intimidation and expanded the range of charges related to free expression punishable under the penal code.
- The constitution guarantees the right to free expression and a free press, but multiple revisions to the 1995 press law have resulted in contradictory stipulations and restrictions, which the government has used to censor stories deemed to undermine political stability. For example, Article 13 of the press law states that the press shall not publish or reproduce false information that humiliates or is in contempt of national institutions.
- Cambodia’s courts also employ outdated provisions of the criminal code adopted under the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) to impose harsh penalties on journalists, including jail time, for defamation and disinformation.
- In October 2009, the Senate and National Assembly approved a penal code that maintains harsh penalties for defamation. While prison sentences for defamation convictions were technically eliminated in 2006, unpaid fines can lead to time behind bars. Several charges added to the new penal code—including public insult, slander, and false information—can also result in prison sentences.
- The courts continue to impose fines on media outlets. In June 2009, Hang Chakra, publisher of the opposition daily Khmer Machas Srok, was sentenced in absentia to one year in prison and fined nine million riels (US$2,200) for “disinformation” and “dishonoring public officials” through articles accusing the deputy prime minister and his subordinates of corruption. The editor of the English-language Cambodia Daily, Kevin Doyle, and a reporter, Neou Vannarin, were each fined four million riels (US$1,000) in September for running a story that criticized a group of senior military officers. In November, journalist Ros Sokhet was prosecuted under the 1992 UNTAC law and sentenced to two years in prison on disinformation charges for spreading corruption accusations about television anchor Soy Sopheap. In June, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the lawsuits against journalists posed a “serious threat” to Cambodia’s democratic development.
- Police continued to intimidate reporters through violence and armed threats. In January 2009 an officer shot at reporter Khim Lyheang while he was covering a story on the transportation of illegally procured timber. According to the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), a number of other cases of arrest and harassment at the hands of police and officials occurred during the year. CCJ reported that twice as many journalists were arrested in 2009 as in 2008, and five times as many faced lawsuits.
- The government still dominates radio and television, the main information sources for the two-thirds of the population that are functionally illiterate. All eight television channels are aligned with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, as are 11 of the main 22 Khmer-language radio stations, according to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).
- Independent broadcast outlets’ operations are constrained by the government’s refusal to allocate radio and television frequencies to stations that are aligned with the opposition. The government has threatened to close outlets for reporting that it does not consider adequate.
- The print media are allowed more freedom to run politically sensitive stories, and journalists regularly expose official corruption and scrutinize the government. There is also a fair amount of access to independent broadcasts from Radio Free Asia and the local human rights–oriented Voice of Democracy radio service.
- The economy is not strong enough to generate sufficient advertising revenues to support truly neutral or independent media.
- Owing to infrastructural and economic constraints, less than 1 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2009, but the government has grown increasingly worried about the impact of new technology on society. The Ministry of Information was drafting a bill in 2009 that would extend print media regulations to the internet and could be used as a tool to silence government critics. A plan to create a state-run exchange point that would control all local internet-service providers has raised concerns that the government would use it to block individual websites.