Cambodian Journalism Review


Comment: Redefining the Cambodian Press Law
June 2, 2008, 4:14 am
Filed under: Commentary, Press Freedom

Redefining the Cambodian Press Law

By Moeun Chhean Nariddh

A

s the criticism has mounted regarding the confiscation of copies of the Burma Daily and the government’s order to halt its publication inside the Cambodia Daily, it is important that the Cambodian press law, which government claimed was violated by the Burma Daily, needs to be reviewed and redefined to ensure that it meets international standards.

Cambodia is bound by its obligation to comply with international human rights treaties and conventions to which it is a signatory. The Cambodian Constitution requires Cambodia to recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human rights and other international covenants.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The Cambodian Constitution also requires the creation of a press law that reflects the spirits of the international laws on press freedom and freedom of expression. As a result, the
Cambodian National Assembly passed the “Law on the Regime of the Press” on July 18, 1995, after about a year of drafting and revisions.

Though some provisions in the Press Law correspond to democratic media law principles, media professionals and human rights groups have criticized that the law did not fully meet international standards.

One of the good provisions in the press law is article 3 which states that: “To maintain independence of the press, pre-publication censorship shall be prohibited.”

Nevertheless, this article apparently contradicts article 8 of the same press law that requires the employer or editor to file an application with the Ministry of Information. The ministry has the power to impose a fine of 2 million riel, about $500, for the failure to follow this procedure.

In democratic media law principles, such licensing of the press is considered pre-publication censorship which is not in conformity with both the universal declaration of human rights and article 3 of the Cambodian press law itself.

Another important aspect that has been a major concern for the media is the ambiguity of many provisions in the press law, including the prohibition to publish information that causes harm to national security, political stability and relations with other countries.

Though such provisions are legitimate under democratic media law principles, the fact that these terms are not clearly defined can give the government the excuse to target any critical publications.

In the case of the Burma Daily, which was halted, according to the government, for fear of harming the relations with Burma, there was not a clear sign of what damage might be caused by this publication.

First, most of the articles had already appeared in other international publications throughout the world. Second, the publication did not carry any editorials or comments that indicated its intention to harm the Cambodian-Burmese friendship.

As the publisher has noted, the publication only intends to bring news about Burma to the world and the Burmese people in an independent and professional manner.

In the circumstance that there are contradictions within different provisions in the press law, what the media and the government should do is to weigh between the possible harm caused by the publication of the information and the public’s right to know and the freedom to publish.

If press freedom and public interest outweighs the possible harm, the press shouldn’t be denied its freedom to publish.

Unfortunately, the government and the court did not seem to rule in favor of the public’s right to know and the freedom of the press when the media and journalists were prosecuted in the past.

As Cambodia is holding the national elections in two months, we hope the new government will revise and amend the press law to meet international standards and also pass the freedom of information act that allows the press and the public more access to information controlled by the government.

The Cambodia Daily

Friday, May 30, 2008

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2 Comments so far
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