Prime Minister Hun Sen took a step virtually unprecedented in the region of decriminalising defamation, soon after releasing a jailed radio boss. However threats and law suits continued against journalists investigating corruption.
Mam Sonando, director of radio Sombok Khmum (Ruche FM 105), was freed in January under international pressure, three months after his arrest along with other figures critical of the government. The head of state followed this up with a draft law to decriminalise defamation, which was quickly passed by parliament. This decision made Cambodia one of the very few Asian countries to stop imposing prison sentences for libel or slander. But Hun Sen publicly reminded journalists that they risked heavy fines if they attacked him.
Several suits were entered against journalists under laws inherited from the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) providing for one-year prison sentences for putting out “false news”.
The often partisan press faces competition from Khmer-language news programmes broadcast by international stations such as Radio Free Asia and Radio France International which are very popular in the capital and in the country’s cities.
Threats against journalists who probe corruption among high officials has never stopped. The editor of an opposition bi-weekly, was forced to flee the country after receiving a death threat in June. He had condemned the misdeeds of a nephew of Hun Sen. Five other reporters, including a Radio Free Asia correspondent, were threatened in 2006.
Government interference also extended to television. A news programme due to go out in August on Cambodia Television Network (CTN) was pulled after Hun Sen accused it of putting the country’s reputation in danger.