Freedom of the Press 2009 - Cambodia
|Publication Date||1 May 2009|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2009 - Cambodia, 1 May 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b27421e10.html [accessed 26 July 2014]|
Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 19 (of 30)
Political Environment: 23 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 19 (of 30)
Total Score: 61 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
Covers events that took place between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2008.
Status change explanation: Cambodia's status declined from Partly Free to Not Free as a result of increased violence against journalists, including the fatal shooting of a veteran reporter for an opposition newspaper, the first murder of a journalist in the country since 2003.
The constitution guarantees the right to free expression and a free press, but the government has used the 1995 press law to censor stories that are deemed to undermine political stability.
Article 13 of the press law states that the press shall not publish or reproduce false information that humiliates or is in contempt of national institutions.
Though defamation was decriminalized in 2006, the offense of "spreading disinformation" continues to carry a prison sentence of up to three years. Such criminal charges were leveled against at least one editor of an opposition paper in 2008, Dam Sith, who was also a candidate for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in the July legislative elections. The charges appeared to be pending at year's end. The broader trend of civil defamation suits filed by government officials against journalists continued during the year, though the number of cases was slightly lower than in 2007.
The severity of physical attacks against the press increased in 2008, with the first murder of a journalist since 2003 taking place during the year. Less than two weeks ahead of the National Assembly elections in July, veteran opposition journalist Khim Sambo and his 21-year-old son were killed in a drive-by shooting in the capital, Phnom Penh. The murder remained unsolved at year's end, with reports surfacing that the national police chief may have been involved in planning the attack. Other extralegal attacks during the year included an April incident in which a journalist was beaten unconscious by police and detained without charge for 17 days after seeking to cover a land dispute.
The government dominates both radio and television, the main media sources for the two-thirds of the population that are functionally illiterate. This was particularly evident in the run-up to parliamentary elections. According to Human Rights Watch, broadcast coverage almost exclusively favored the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), and the National Election Commission issued warnings to 13 television and radio outlets for biased coverage. This, along with other irregularities, is believed to have contributed to the CPP's victory, in which it took 90 out of 123 National Assembly seats.
Independent broadcast outlets' operations are constrained by the government's refusal to allocate radio and television frequencies to stations that are aligned with the opposition. In the period surrounding the elections, two radio stations were shut down: a private radio station in Kratie province was closed indefinitely in May, and an opposition-aligned FM station was shut on the night before the elections and remained closed for 11 days.
Coverage in the printed media is vigorous, though politically polarized, and journalists regularly expose official corruption and scrutinize the government. There is also a fair amount of access to broadcasts by Radio Free Asia and the local human rights-oriented Voice of Democracy radio service.
The economy is not strong enough to generate sufficient advertising revenues to support truly neutral or independent media.
Access to the internet is generally unrestricted, although owing to infrastructural and economic constraints, less than 1 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2008.