Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cambodia’s Progress on Press Freedom Recognized

BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

World Press Freedom Day has been celebrated this year under the banner: “The Media’s Potential: Dialogue, Equity, Mutual Understanding, and Reconciliation”. Co-organized by the Press Council of Cambodia and the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the event has hosted at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh on May 4. Its overall purpose was to remind the world of the media’s role in protecting fundamental human rights.

Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information, said that over the years, the media and freedom of press have displayed an impressive rate of development and progression compared to other countries in the region. He said that Cambodia’s Press Laws of 1997 fully guaranteed rights for local media. He singled out journalists, as it is their duty to help the Royal Government of Cambodia promote and strengthen the rule of law and democracy in Cambodia.

“I affirm that Cambodia’s press freedom has indeed developed and Cambodian journalists have used their rights responsibly and in full accordance with the Press Law and Cambodian Constitution,” he said during his opening remarks.

The Minister said that currently the government needs the media organizations and journalist groups to work in the full spirit of cooperation for they all provide information and feedback from the people of the nation to the government.

To encourage the freedom of the press still further in Cambodia, Kanharith said his government welcomes all forms of constructive criticism. He also thanked members of the press for their accurate reporting of the Government’s many activities as detailed in the second phase of the Rectangular Strategy. Again, he emphasized the media’s role in facilitating smooth progress towards achieving the goal.

Om Chandara, Chairman of the Press Council of Cambodia, said that many Cambodian media organizations were established following the Peace Accord of 1991. Whilst there have been cases of journalists going to jail for libelous reporting and a number of high profile murders in the past years, freedom has been ensured and journalists have the right to communicate as they see fit within the scope of libel laws and express opinions freely within Cambodia, said Chandara.

The Chairman said current progress was a result of peace, security and political stability in Cambodia, as typified by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s “Win-Win policy”. He noted that the freedom of the press was guaranteed not just in the Cambodia’s Press Law clause of the Constitution, but also by Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Teruo Jinnai, UNESCO Representative in Cambodia, said that freedom of expression was a fundamental human right, as stated in Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. He also pledged that his organization would continue to “…collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of all peoples, through all means of mass communication” and “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image”.

For those reasons, UNESCO and the Press Council of Cambodia will continue to explore the enormous potential of the media to serve as a platform for dialogue, equity and as a vehicle for understanding and reconciliation, said Jinnai. He further underlined the ability of the media to foster the health of society when it respects and represents diversity of voices. He continued by saying the media has a demonstrated ability in fostering mutual understanding by communicating across divides, thus bringing competing narratives together into a shared story.

“We rejoice in the task of celebrating Equity in Expression, a right shared by every member of our society. We can all express our ideas and formulate opinions for ourselves without threat of persecution,” Jinnai said.

Setting aside the matter of press freedom for a moment, the UNESCO representative turned to legal considerations. “To make freedom of expression a reality” he said, “a regulated legal environment must exist and be encouraged, and this will allow an open space where ideas can bloom.” He added that the political will to support both the press sector and the rule of law must also exist, as well as laws to ensure open access to information and knowledge: and given the media professional’s characteristic adherence to ethical and professional standards is taken into account, all the pillars in support of freedom of expression are in place.

“A diversity of voices, as with other types of diversity, has been a hallmark of our times and this trend has been hastened by the globalized interaction of humanity,” Jinnai said. “We can confirm this by looking at the case for Cambodia, the country where all of us live. A brief glance around this Conference Hall reveals a congregation of people coming from different places, people from a range of backgrounds and each one of us blessed with the ability to formulate and live by a set of ideals. In this sense, the challenge is encouraging a media that responds to this diversity with a predisposition towards dialogue.”

He emphasized that the Cambodian media is truly free in comparison to other countries in the region. Still, he noted a climate of hesitation that seems to surround Cambodian journalists and media workers. He suggested that this was a result of their recognition of the existence of limited access to information.

“We must undertake the task of strengthening the security of the journalist on the World Press Freedom Day. We must continue to encourage the flow of information, and we must continue to uphold a media sector that will serve as a platform for dialogue; and we must continue to conduct this dialogue in the spirit of equity, understanding and reconciliation,” he said. “This will all tend towards the welfare of the society.”

He concluded by saying that key actors in the Cambodian media sector were participating in the conference, including representatives from the Cambodian government, foreign embassies, political parties, journalist associations, UN Agencies, NGOs, with an impressive turn-out from members of the civil society. This shows awareness of and attention given to press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information by the people of Cambodia.

According to the Ministry of Information report 2009, there are about 600 media organizations including 500 print media operations, 49 radio stations, 14 television stations and 93 cable television operators in Cambodia. ///

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