Cambodian Journalism Review


Defamation Shouldn’t Equal Jail Time
October 23, 2007, 4:46 am
Filed under: Press Freedom

Opinion

The Cambodia Daily

17 January 2005

Defamation Shouldn’t Equal Jail Time

 

 

F

ollowing the recent arrests of journalists and human rights activists on defamation charges, I am glad to hear that the new penal code being drafted will make criminal punishment less severe for defamatory offences (“Draft Law Provides for Jail Time for Defamation,” The Cambodia Daily, Jan 13, page 16).

But it will serve both democracy, including free speech and free press, and the interest of all Cambodians if the criminal punishment in the new law for defamation is removed completely.

Nobody, particularly journalists, would want to touch sensitive issues if they thought that they would be thrown into jail up to five months, as the draft law provides for.

Public officials should be open to criticism and scrutiny by the media and the public. This democratic principle is to ensure that public officials do their work in a transparent and accountable manner, while all wrongdoing can be exposed and corrected.

This does not mean journalists and members of the public should get away with defamation. Instead of getting jail punishment, they should just be ordered to pay a minimum fine, print retraction, or apologize as the most severe punishment.

Public officials who feel they have been defamed can surely restore their reputation and dignity through a clarification press conference or a letter to the editor, as well as by asking the media to print corrections or apologize.

We need a better law that tolerates sincere criticism. This law will not only benefit journalists and other people who are not in the government, but it will also benefit everyone in the long run.

In a democracy, no political party or politician will stay in power eternally. When other parties or politicians come to power, they ruling party will become the opposition. They will then also play a crucial role, like the media, in criticizing the new government.

Current government officials will not want to see themselves or their children put in jail for making honest criticism of a future government.

This is a good opportunity for the current government to make a law that serves their own interests in the future when the tide has turned.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh

Phnom Penh

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