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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on the Cambodian Information Ministry to immediately reinstate the licenses it revoked from three online media outlets for alleged breaches of ethics after covering corruption cases. The ministry did not follow due process when it revoked the licenses and its accusations are spurious, says RSF.
Without prior warning and without the possibility of appeal, the three news organizations – Bayong Time, Khmer Coverage Television (KCTV) and Cambodia today — learned that their licenses had been revoked in a letter released by the Ministry of Information on March 15 accusing them of violating journalistic ethics and their contracts with the ministry.
By way of ethical violations, what the three news sites have in common is that they have recently published investigative articles on endemic corruption among Cambodia’s political and economic elites.
Cambodia today editor Touch Yuthea told RSF he suspected the withdrawal of his license was a “personal decision by senior ministry officials in charge of licensing” in response to a story about a corrupt bidding process at the labor ministry.
“The decision to revoke the licenses of Bayong Time, Cambodia today and KCTVName is a flagrant violation of the freedom of publication enshrined in Article 41 of the Cambodian constitution,” denounced Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This is brazen intimidation, and we call on the government to immediately restore the publishing licenses of these three outlets. Freedom of the press must not be the collateral victim of the actions of a few corrupt officials.
Bayong Time editor Tel Samuth told RSF: “I think that the cancellation of these media will serve to scare many other media into stopping reporting the truth. He added that the Ministry of Information had also violated standard procedure by failing to issue at least two warnings and start negotiations before revoking the licenses – the procedure set out in Article 10 of the Press Law. .
Reached by RSF, the office of Information Minister Khieu Kanharith declined to comment. Meanwhile, the ministry reportedly told the editors of the three publications that they could get their licenses back if they “corrected” their articles and removed some content.
Last October, RSF accused the defense minister of abusing his authority by ordering officials to ‘punish’ the operator of the provincial website Youn Chiv for publishing an investigation report into illegal land confiscations. He was sentenced to a year in prison just two days after his arrest.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government launched a relentless offensive against independent media in 2017 to maintain its grip on power, as detailed by RSF in a February 2018 report.
Cambodia is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.