Week 547 – 2008-02-17: Dealing with International News

Posted on 21 February 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 547 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 547

When there are rumors in the national press which allegedly relate to defined events in the country, it may be easy to stop them: for example, there were reports saying “The Government Plans to Draft a Law Allowing Foreigners to Have the Right to Own Khmer Land.” The Prime Minister was able to easily deny this, as was reported: “Dekchor Hun Sen: I Have Never Had Even a Dream about Making a Law to Sell Land to Foreigners.”

In other cases it is not at all easy to separate rumor from facts. Newspapers often note that their efforts to verify a report or to get the government side of a story failed because the officers in charge did not respond to a phone call, declined to respond by saying they were too busy, or just hung up the phone when they understood that a journalist was calling. This is bad practice in a democratic society, as it leaves the national public uninformed and forced to rely on rumor. Unfortunately, there are currently few mechanisms to fix this in the Cambodian situation. There are even frequent complaints that Article 96 of the Constitution is not honored; this prescribes that the deputies of the National Assembly “have the right to put a motion against the Royal Government… The replies shall be given by one or several ministers depending on the matters related to the accountability of one or several ministers… The explanations shall be provided within 7 days after the day when the question is received.”

When it comes to internationally raised questions, recent examples show that these are not so easy to ignore or suppress as questions raised within Cambodia. Those who start international public debate are not so easily quieted when questions are evaded or responses take up side issues instead of the substance of the concerns . Sometimes a response or tactic which may have finished public debate nationally is counter-productive on the international level – instead of calming the debate, it magnifies it.

Two recent examples demonstrate this:

After Global Witness published its controversial report “Cambodia’s Family Trees” – 100 pages with over 400 carefully compiled footnotes from Cambodian and international resources – the Cambodian government prohibited its distribution. This probably resulted in much wider interest in the document than it would have received otherwise, especially as it can be downloaded from the Internet in its English and its Khmer versions. This interest was raised even further, after a Cambodian ambassador called the report, “groundless, unacceptable, and rubbish,” without specifying in detail the reasons for this judgment, and he called on those agencies that had financially supported Global Witness to review their decisions.

One of the reactions: the government of Ireland, a supporter of Global Witness, requested the Cambodian government to substantiate their objections to the detailed allegations contained in the Global Witness report. It can be expected that other governments will also look forward to the response of the Cambodian government.

In an example this past week, Amnesty International published – easily accessible internationally on the Internet – a 74-page report entitled “Rights Razed – Forced Evictions in Cambodia.” The report quotes many specific incidents with locations and dates, and details how these incidents violate relevant Cambodian laws as well as international covenants to which the Cambodian government has subscribed in the process of regaining its rightful place in the international community of nations after decades of tragic conflicts.

Instead of taking the time to carefully study and respond to this document, a refutation of less than one page was given to the international public. It criticized an Amnesty International staff member who had been interviewed by an international news agency. In fact, what needs attention is not what was reported about the brief press review with that staff person, who is not the head of Amnesty International or an official spokesperson, but what needs attention is the detailed description of many serious problems suffered by people displaced in Cambodia, whose fate is described in the 74 pages of the official report of Amnesty International. Unless specific cases can be carefully refuted, with facts and documentation, the Amnesty International report will of course be used by the international public to form an opinion about the state of law and the atmosphere of care for the weak and poor sections of society in Cambodia.

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