Media “Freedom” in Cambodia

February 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cambodia’s constitution allows for a free press, but journalists and media outlets often find themselves in jail or slapped with lawsuits, in attempts by the government to silence them.

The Cambodia Daily’s editor-in-chief, Kevin Doyle, spoke to a group at Texas State Wednesday night about media freedom in Cambodia and what it’s like to report the news in Southeast Asia. Doyle, a soft spoken and mindful Ireland native who is currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, told of his own run-in with Cambodian law. Doyle was detained in the jungles of Cambodia over an article published in his newspaper criticizing the ruling party. His newspaper is the leading English news publication in the country.

Cambodia boasts itself as a democratic nation, in that it has free elections every five years; however, it’s difficult to recognize the country as an actual democracy. Because of their ties with the ruling party, the courts compromise civil society by wrongfully charging people for crimes they did not commit, or worse—knowingly turning a blind eye to criminals’ actions because of their relationships with government leaders.

It is instances like these that make Cambodia’s judiciary “the least trusted part government body in the country,” Doyle said. “This isn’t rule of law, this is rule by law.”

Doyle says life in Cambodia isn’t all bad. Cambodia is one of the few countries in the Southeast Asia region to even have a free press. Vietnam, Burma, Singapore, and Malaysia are examples of Asian countries without media freedom. In addition to a free press, the ruling party in Cambodia has in the last ten years stabilized the country in many ways: international investment, economic growth, and tourism growth, which brought international revenue and job creation. Still, the country has a long road of improvement to become a real democratic nation.

“There’s a sense in Cambodia of roads first, human rights later…development first, then we can have our human rights after that,” Doyle said.

Cambodia’s prime minister calls people power movements a coup d’état.

“He hates people power movements,” Doyle said.

The PM says his country allows free elections and if the people are displeased with a law, they should voice their opinions through their free elections—not with movements and protests. New penal codes make it difficult for any NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) to gather and protest for their rights. New laws also say any published comments deemed to undermine the reputation of a government leader, group (i.e. police force or a judiciary body), or institution is defamation. Laws also criminalize any criticism of court decisions, because such criticism could cause “turmoil in society or endanger Cambodian institutions.”

Doyle’s aim as an expatriate journalist in Cambodia is to present the people with impartial, unbiased news through a publication which focuses on politics. He also tries to aid the people in being heard and securing their rights as humans. He included a famous quote in a slide during his presentation, which sums up his and The Cambodia Daily’s goals: “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”


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