Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 18 (of 30)
Political Environment: 21 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 19 (of 30)
Total Score: 58 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Status change explanation: Cambodia's status improved from Not Free to Partly Free to reflect the decriminalization of defamation in May 2006, as well as a reduction in harassment of journalists.

The Cambodian media environment improved in 2006 as a result of changes to the Defamation Law and a continued decline in harassment and attacks on the press. The constitution guarantees the right to free expression and a free press, and while the 1995 Press Law also theoretically protects press freedom, the government has used it to censor stories deemed to undermine political stability. Under Article 12, the employer, editor, or author of an article may be subject to a fine of 5 million to 15 million riels (US$1,282 to US$3,846). The law also gives the Ministries of Information and the Interior the right to confiscate or suspend a publication for 30 days and transfer the case to court. Article 13 states that the press shall not publish or reproduce false information that humiliates or is in contempt of national institutions. In May, the National Assembly dropped criminal charges for defamation, though civil suits with potentially onerous fines remain in law and in use by political figures. The law represents a significant step forward for the Cambodian press, as criminal defamation charges had been used frequently to harass reporters who published articles critical of public figures. The ruling should allow journalists greater freedom to report on sensitive issues without fear of reprisal.

Press coverage is vigorous, and journalists regularly expose official corruption and scrutinize the government. Attacks against the press have declined significantly in recent years, although several cases of harassment and threats were reported in 2006. In January, two journalists and one journalist/activist who had been imprisoned in October 2005 on charges of defamation – for criticizing the government over a border agreement with Vietnam – were released on bail. Although the courts initially refused to drop the charges against them, they were later withdrawn. In July, the deputy prime minister filed defamation charges against the publisher of the Khmer-language newspaper Meneaskseka, following a June 13 article accusing the government of corruption. Another reporter for the occasional newspaper Samrek Yutekthor was arrested while covering the eviction of squatters in a property dispute. The editor of the biweekly Sralanh Khmer, which had published an article criticizing the prime minister's nephew for corrupt land seizures in Cambodia's northeast Mondolkiri province, faced death threats in July, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In August, the Cambodian Television Network was forced to pull a current affairs program, Cambodia Today, after the prime minister accused the program of damaging the nation's reputation.

Journalists from more than 20 publications aligned with or subsidized by various political factions are unbridled in criticizing their adversaries and public officials but generally do not criticize the king. The ruling Cambodian People's Party, its coalition partner the royalist party Funcinpec, and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party each has its own newspaper. Overall, approximately 20 Khmer-language newspapers are published on a regular basis. However, the government dominates both radio and television, the main media sources for the two-thirds of the population that are functionally illiterate, and broadcast programming generally reflects official viewpoints. Independent broadcast outlets' operations are constrained by the refusal to allocate radio and television frequencies to stations that are aligned with the opposition. In addition, the economy is not strong enough to generate sufficient advertising revenues to support truly neutral or independent media. Access to foreign broadcasts and to the internet is generally unrestricted, although owing to infrastructure and economic constraints, less than 0.5 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2006.

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