Cambodian Journalism Review

“Frank Talks, Self Regulations” Key to Promote Media Ethics
January 4, 2011, 2:41 am
Filed under: Khmer Press

“Frank Talks, Self Regulations” Key to Promote Media Ethics

by Moeun Chhean Nariddh



s media professionals, we agree that professionalism is our best protection, particularly against legal action for criminal defamation and disinformation. And we acknowledge that media professionals need to regulate ourselves if we don’t want to be regulated by the government.

 This was what a group of Cambodian editors and senior journalists intended to do when they recently established the Cambodian Journalists’ Council for Ethics, or CJCE, with members from different press associations, academic institutions and media NGOs.

While self regulation is the cornerstone of the media profession, CJCE members also recognize that it’s important to engage the government to build our mutual trust and understanding.

So, on December 30 about 15 members of CJCE decided to request a meeting with His Excellency Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information, to discuss the mission and objectives of the new ethics council.

“We will try,” Mr. Sek Barisoth, Director of Pact Cambodia’s Media Program, who is Vice Chairman of CJCE, told the Minister, “If it [CJCE] is successful, it is for the interest of us all.”

Mr. Barisoth said the purpose of CJCE was to give recommendations step by step to journalists or media organizations found guilty of abusing the journalistic code of ethics.

“We can help correct one another to improve the respect for the code of ethics,” added Ms Yim Nimola, Director of the Khmer Women’s Voice Center, who was appointed as Chairwoman of CJCE.

In response, the Information Minister said it was not in the capacity of his ministry or the government to tell CJCE what it should or shouldn’t do. But, he said he was personally happy to discuss the work of the new ethics council and how to promote the journalistic code of ethics.

“In the name of the [Information] Ministry, we wouldn’t want to interfere,” he said, “We can talk as brothers and sisters.”

The Minister said many editors had already tried to find the way to improve the media profession. He said some editors had in the past quietly negotiated what they should avoid doing such as printing pictures of rape victims on the front page of a newspaper. He added: “Then, they agreed not to use filthy language.”

He said in some cases direct conversation could also help correct the problems of the abuse of the ethics.

“Sometimes, frank talks are more effective,” he advised on how to correct ethical errors among journalists, “But, if they repeatedly make mistakes, we can take action.”

Yet, it was “taking action” against the media that has become controversial as many journalists have been arrested and jailed for defamation and disinformation. The discussion of this issue was also missing during  the meeting between members of the ethics council and the Information Minister.

However, HE Khieu Kanharith said the government also recognized the important work of the media as watchdog of the government.

“The Prime Minister has also acknowledged that there were some bad officials who produced false reports,” he said, “So, it’s the duty of journalists [to help inform the government].”

But, he said journalists should know the limits of their criticism of the government, particularly regarding the use of language.

“You can say the government is incompetent,” he said, “but you can’t say Hun Sen is a traitor.” He added: “You can say creating the Senate is useless, but you can’t curse it.”

The Minister said journalists had to distinguish between criticism and insults and that any criticism must be responsible.

Nevertheless, as in the case of a glass half full or a glass half empty, some government officials can’t distinguish between “Constructive Criticism” and “Destructive Criticism” either.

Mr. Barisoth, who is the former Director of the Cambodia Communication Institute, told the Information Minister that some journalists didn’t mean to abuse the code of ethics, but that they simply didn’t understand that what they were doing was ethically wrong.

CJCE Member Khuon Playwee said some journalists wanted to sensationalize a story by using weird headlines which lead to the abuse of ethics. Ms Chea Sundaneth, another CJCE member and Director of Women’s Media Center Radio FM102, added that there were many other basic problems with Cambodian journalists, including spelling and Khmer grammar.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Khieu Kola, a CTN journalist and member of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, asked the Minister for more advice for Cambodian journalists and CJCE.

HE Khieu Kanharith said the Cambodian media needed to have a lawyer to defend themselves when there was a legal action brought against them. He said the Cambodian media also needed to have an incentive for journalists who respect the code of ethics such as giving “Prize of Excellence In Journalism.”


 Mr. Moeun Chhean Nariddh is the Director of  the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies and a Member of the Cambodian Journalists’ Council for Ethics


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