Journalists taken to court can receive legal representation from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lawyers, the Information Ministry announced this week.
The announcement, issued on Wednesday, said a new commission made up of Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and several members of the ministry will work to resolve future disputes involving journalists.
Phos Sovann, director-general of the ministry’s information and broadcasting department, said the commission will help find justice for reporters.
“Journalists can request the commission to help, and the commission will review and study the case,” Sovann said. “Then the commission will send the case to Samdech’s legal team to help to defend them,” he said, using an honorific for the prime minister.
Government media outlets can also consult with the commission about publishing stories on sensitive topics such as border disputes to avoid “unintentional damage,” Sovann added.
Private media outlets were also welcome to consult with them if they wanted, he said.
Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) and editor-in-chief of PNN — a television station owned by ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat — said the new initiative will help journalists who do not have the means to get their own lawyers.
Sat Chanbut, a journalist in Mondukiri province who was recently sued for reporting on a land dispute involving a military colonel, said he would not be seeking the help of government lawyers himself, but he imagined that it could be helpful.
However, Licadho monitoring manager Am Sam Ath cautioned that the commission might not be so helpful if the journalists were in a dispute with the government itself or with powerful people.
“I just appeal to the commission: Please implement this equally for all journalists, and please don’t think that some journalists are pro-government journalists and [others] write to criticize the government or powerful people,” Sam Ath said.