Cambodian journalists said Thursday that the Ministry of Information’s decision not to renew the licenses of three online media outlets shows the government is cracking down on independent media and freedom of expression.
BayongTimes, Khmercovertv (KCTV), and Cambodiatoday will be shut down after the ministry said in a statement they had “published information that violated journalistic professional ethics and corporate contracts.”
But Touch Yuthea, Editor-in-Chief of Cambodiatoday, told CamboJA that his publication has done nothing wrong and said the government was putting pressure on independent news sources.
‘’Cambodiatoday is aimed at providing its reader with reliable sources of information as well as what is really going on in the society,” he said.
‘’We always stick to professionalism and facts and I think we did nothing wrong or violate the journalistic professional ethics since we only report the truth,” he added.
Yuthea said that despite constant threats, he continues to do his job because ‘’if we journalists do not dare to report the facts then who can?”
In early February, Cambodiatoday published an investigative story about alleged corruption within the Ministry of Labor, which the editor thinks could be the reason behind their termination.
‘’I published an article about the corrupt bidding process at the Ministry of Labor, which wastes millions of dollars of the national budget. Then the officials of the Ministry of Information asked me to take down the article, but I refused,” he said.
But Phos Sovann, Ministry of Information spokesman, told CamboJA that the three media outlets had published misinformation by accusing civil servants of committing corruption without any evidence. He said this was in violation of article ten of the press law.
‘’The Ministry asked them to revise their articles because they violated journalistic ethics by publishing misinformation, but they refused. Therefore, it leaves us no choice but to make this decision,” he said.
Nop Vy, the Executive Director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association (CamboJA), said the termination of the three media licenses was intimidation and aimed at preventing journalists from doing their jobs.
‘’If they are under threat or their licenses can be withdrawn after they publish sensitive stories, then they won’t do their job of promoting social accountability, good governance, and reducing corruption,” he said.
Vy said journalists have been known to self-censor when reporting on corruption or any stories affiliated with high-ranking government officials. He pointed to a few cases where journalists have been imprisoned in Koh Kong and Kampong Chhnang provinces for stories they’ve worked on.
‘’Government has a duty to protect journalists’ work and ensure that they can exercise their rights and freedom freely. I am asking the government to review their mandate and fulfill their obligation,” he added.
According to a CamboJA report, there were 35 cases of harassment against 72 journalists in 2020. The report said 42 of them were detained for questioning or imprisoned while another 22 journalists were physically attacked or violently threatened.