No Need to Wait for a Law on Access to Information: The Press in Cambodia Faces Rejection When Trying to Get Information – Monday, 29.12.2008

Posted on 30 December 2008. Filed under: Week 593 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 593

“Phnom Penh: In an attempt to play a better role as conveyor of messages from citizens to the Royal Government and from the Royal Government to citizens, the Club of Cambodian Journalists held the Fifth Editors’ Forum of Cambodia under the motto ‘Assessments by Editors of the Situation of Access to Information’ in the evening of 27 December 2008 at the Himawari Hotel in Phnom Penh, with a Secretary of State of the Ministry of Information, Mr. Nov Sovatharo, chairing. This important forum was supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation like the previous forums.

“There was an active discussion after four speakers – Mr. Puy Kea, a reporter of the Kyodo News Agency of Japan, Mr. Pen Bona, co-editor of Cambodge Soir, Mr. Net Phatra, representing the Phnom Penh Post, and Mr. Chea Sayna, the editor of Koh Santepheap – expressed their opinions related to easiness and difficulties related to ‘Access to Information and Problems Faced.’ At the end, the editors’ forum decided to release the following joint declaration:

Joint Declaration of the Fifth Editors’ Forum of Cambodia ‘Access to Information without Waiting for a Law about Access to Information’
27 December 2008
Himawari Hotel
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

All of us, 35 people (as seen in the attached list with our signatures [not included here]) editors, publishing both through newspapers and through radio and TV in Cambodia, met during the Fifth Editors’ Forum in Phnom Penh on 27 December 2008 to discuss and to assess the situation of access to information which we face in our professional work during the year, and to find solutions. Under the theme of ‘Access to Information and Different Problems Faced speakers raised problems, expressed views, and provided recommendations related to:

  • The situation of access to information for foreign news agencies in Cambodia
    • Access to information related to the Preah Vihear border disputes
    • Access to information at different provinces countrywide
    • Access to information at central level (in Phnom Penh, at ministries, at private companies)

    Then, the Fifth Editor’s Forum of Cambodia discussed, in general, all points raised in the forum by the speakers and joined to assess the situation of access to information in Cambodia with high responsibility.

    Problems Identified Limiting Access to Information

    After discussions and assessments by the Fifth Editors’ Forum, the following problems are seen:

    1. Spokespersons or Public Relations Officials, or Information Officials: Many ministries and other state institutions, like the National Assembly, the Senate, as well as organizations and companies, do not have spokespersons or public relations officials, or information officials who professionally fulfill these tasks. This becomes a major obstacle against the flow of information for the general public, as guaranteed by the Constitution of 1993.
    2. Provision of Documents: In general, official documents are necessary, to be sure that a report and its information is made correctly, official documents are mostly not confidential documents, official documents have to be published by individual institutions and ministries that have to provide information to the public, and to publish about their own activities…, but often, such documents are not provided or prepared for publication and provided to journalists, not even their annual reports, and reports about the orientation of their work in the new year.
    3. Different Programs, Activities, and Meetings: Meetings that should be open are often declared to be internal and confidential affairs of the institutions, and journalists are asked to leave the meetings. At the same time, the work plans of the leaders of ministries and of other institutions are usually kept locked away in a drawer in the administration’s office, so that it sometimes seems that leaders of ministries are more secretive than the prime minister – and sometimes they do not seem to work.
    4. Announcements of Information: A small number of ministries announce information about some important events. But, regrettably, most ministries and institutions do not announce information, and some information is announced unexpectedly late.
    5. Regular Meetings and Press Conferences: In contrast to what is done in other modern countries, most ministries and institutions do not hold press conference or meet with journalists at all, although there were important and big problems to be explained and published. This makes the public to feel uninformed about the activities and the work of such ministries or institutions.
    6. Websites: Websites are one of the most important sources of information in this era of information technology. Most ministries and institutions have their own websites. This is an encouraging start. However, regrettably, most websites of ministries and of institutions are not kept updated with new information. Therefore, their websites cannot provide information and do not indicate where information can be found.

    Conclusion

    The weaknesses and gaps mentioned above are problems working against the access to information, and therefore the efficiency of different services, especially of public services, is questioned. Nevertheless, these problems can be addressed without waiting for a law about access to information. Corrections can be made through a change of behavior of some officials, and by a reorganization of the working structures at different institutions and ministries. The Royal Government has done a lot of work for people’s wellbeing and for national development, but the above shortages seems to swallow all achievements and accomplishments, when they are not shown to the public: to know, to hear, and to see. In the meantime, some facts in the social and economic life are ignored or are not solved in time, and consequently, everyone is a loser, both the Royal Government and the citizens.

    Appeal in a Situation that a Law about Access to Information Is Not Yet Adopted
    1. The Fifth Editor’s Forum of Cambodia would like to ask all ministries and institutions to appoint information officials or public relations officials, or spokespersons, and to organize their work so that they can work professionally and can fulfill their different tasks, such as to provide documents, to provide data about the work and about their activities, and especially to be able to respond to questions from journalists.
    2. All ministries and institutions should hold press conferences or meet with journalists regularly, to provide information about their activities and about the work of their ministries and institutions, and they must be conducted at least once per month.
    3. In cases of emergency, all ministries and institutions should release timely information for publication for the sake of the public. The publication of timely information can sometimes avoid danger and damage.
    4. All ministries and institutions should create their own websites to provide information to the public. As for some ministries and institutions that already have their own websites, they have to update information on their websites every day when there is new information.
    5. The Fifth Editors’ Forum of Cambodia will observe and assess the provision of information, and the Sixth Editors’ Forum, to be held again in 2009, will promote and strengthen the role of the Cambodian press in Cambodian society and in the international arena.

    Phnom Penh, 27 December 2008”
    Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6537, 29.12.2008

    Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
    Monday, 29 December 2008

    Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1832, 28-29.12.2008

    • Siem Reap Court Detains Three People, including a Journalist [of Sangkum Khmer], over a Land Dispute in Chi Kraeng District [for using violence against a real estate owner, and for provoking crimes, while residents said that they are arrested unjustly]
    • Pakistan and India Send Troops to their Border, Increasing Tension
    • China Sends Warships to the Gulf of Aden [to help fight Somali pirates]

    Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.2, #314, 28-30.12.2008

    • Secretary of State of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology Tan Vanthara Appeared at a Gambling Site of the Phnom Penh Hotel
    • [Former military police officer] Chea Ratha Said Something about the Place Where She Is Hiding [she is living in a pagoda in a foreign country], Adding that She Is a Victim Regarding the Acid Attack [on the aunt of Ms. In Soklida, a well-known film star, with whom she had an affair]
    • [Former Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs] Noppadon Pattama Will Raise the Preah Vihear Temple Problem, to Attack [new Prime Minister] Abhisit Vejjajiva [during the meeting of the Thai parliament]

    Khmer Sthapana, Vol.1, #170, 28-29.12.2008

    • Dey Krahom Community Residents Face Eviction on 30 December 2008 [after the Chamkar Mon district office issued the last notice for the rest of 91 families (of 1274 families) at the Building Block area to leave by 30 December 2008]

    Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6537, 29.12.2008

    • No Need to Wait for a Law on Access to Information: The Press in Cambodia Faces Rejection When Trying to Get Information
    • Negotiation with Siam [Thailand] Is Still the Position for Border Issues and It Is the Most Appropriate Choice to Avoid War [said spokesperson of the government and Minister of Information, Mr. Khieu Kanharith]
    • Red-Shirt Demonstrators [supporters of the ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra] Start to Surround the Thai Parliament [to prevent the presentation of the policy statement by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva]
    • Israel Attacked Hamas in Gaza Causing Many Deaths [as revenge for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel – at least 271 people were killed and more than 620 others were injured. – Status on 29.12.2008: 1 soldier and 3 civilians were killed in Israel; more that 310 persons were killed in Gaza, and hundreds wounded]
    • More Than 98,000 Civilians Killed in Iraq [since 2003]

    Meatophum, Vol.52, #716, 29-31.12.2008

    • If [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Mr. Hor Namhong Does Not Assign His Son, Whom Should He Assign? [he will appoint his son, Hor Monyrath, to be ambassador in Japan from 2009]

    Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3651, 29.12.2008

    • The Spokesperson of the Government [Mr. Khieu Kanharith] Said that If an Armed Clash Happens along the Khmer-Siamese [Thai] Border, Cambodia Would Need 20,000 Troops
    • Members of the European Parliament Prepare to Sue Yuon [Vietnamese] Airline [for preventing them, Mr. Marco Panella and Mr. Marco Perduca, to board a plane from Cambodia to Vietnam]
    • The Director of the Cambodia Mine Action Authority Was Removed from His Position Related to Corruption [over the collapse of financing for the mine-sniffing dog raising and breeding program – Mr. Sam Sotha was replaced by Mr. Chum Bunrong, an advisor of Prime Minister Hun Sen]

    Rasmei Angkor, Vol.15, #1336, 29.12.2008

    • The Public of the [Phnom Penh] City Welcomes that the Authorities Curb Down Illegal Motorbike Pawn Shops [because such places are said to increase robberies in the city – nearly 2,000 motorbikes were found, 70% do not have number plates or tax stickers]


    Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4780, 28-29.12.2008

    • The Ministry of Interior Starts to Release Money instead of Rice to Police in 2009 [because of quality problems, late delivery, and loss of rice – instead of 1 kilogram of rice Riel 2,800 is paid – approx. US$0.70 – no information given how many kg in total are provided per month]
    • The Setting of Cambodia-Vietnam Border Markers Is Delayed until 2012 [the Cambodian-Vietnamese border of 1,270 km needs to be marked with 370 markers, worth more than US$15 million, and Vietnam is responsible for the whole expenses]

    Have a look at the last editorial – you can access it directly from the main page of the Mirror.

    And please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

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    Friday, 18.7.2008: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia Issued a Statement to Address the Impunity of Murderers and Attempts to Murder Journalists

    Posted on 19 July 2008. Filed under: Week 569 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 569

    “On 16 July 2008, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR] in Cambodia issued an official statement with the title ‘The Murder of Khim Sambo, a Journalist of Moneaksekar Khmer, and of His Son’ on 11 July 2008. This statement has raised, in many paragraphs, the issues of press freedom, and of impunity for criminals. It started by sharing sadness as follows:

    “The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia expresses its concerns and sadness about the murder of Mr. Khim Sambo and of his son, Khat Sarinpheata, on 11 July 2008 in the center of Phnom Penh. The OHCHR would like to share sad condolences with the family, friends, and colleges of the victims, and would like to join with others to express our sadness about their death with all who mourn together.

    “While it is too early to decide whether his murder is related to articles that he had written, there is a certain context, raising the suspicion that ‘His work might be a reason for his murder.’

    “Mr. Khim Sambo was an experienced journalist working with Moneaksekar Khmer which is oriented towards the Sam Rainsy Party, which is in the opposition.

    “OHCHR stressed the following in the statement:

    “By not thinking about the reasons for this murder, one could not influence the public view that causes fear of politics among the citizens and in their feelings. Therefore, it is very important that the authorities of the government investigate this case soon, fully, and dependably, and bring the criminals to be sentenced to the court, to resolve all doubts about this murder. Such action would be an assurance, better than anything else in the context of impunity, which still continues for the murderers of journalists in the past, with the impression that criminals are above the law, and journalists are not protected.

    “The murder on a journalist is a denial of the basic right of the freedom of expression. A murder during the parliamentary election campaign towards the 27 July 2008 throws a shadow on the election campaign, where there had not yet been any serious violations so far, compared to previous elections. This murder not only destroyed the victim’s family, friends, and colleges, but it also destroyed newspapers, the journalists’ community, rights and freedoms of expression, and it destroyed as well the possibility of a proper participation by opposition parties in Cambodia.

    “The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia recently noticed that violations against journalists had decreased significantly, compared to the 1990ies. More disputes with journalists are now solved by the courts, but regrettably, activities from criminals still continue stronger than the use of civil courts actions against destructive activities. This murder causes fear that journalists become shooting targets for murderers again.

    “It is indispensable to secure the right to freedom of expression, based on the Constitution, where the authorities protect the journalists from violence; but defamation cases have been approached through criminal lawsuits rather than through civil court actions. The freedom of expression for anyone, to be used peacefully and freely, contributes to publicly discuss concerns in society – this is a key condition to develop a democratic environment.

    “The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia is ready to cooperate with the Ministry of Information and other relevant institutions as well as with other concerned people to find what should be done to strengthen, to promote, and to protect the peaceful implementation of the rights of the freedom of expression and of press freedom, that are recognized by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

    “Information background: Impunity – murders and attempt of murders of journalists in the past:

    “The murder of Mr. Khim Sambo is similar to eight other murders and attempts of murder of journalists in Cambodia since 1994 – in all cases the criminals still continue to live happily with impunity. Those cases are:

    “Mr. Nuon Chan, editor-in-chief of Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, was shot dead by two people riding on a motorcycle in Phnom Penh on 7 September 1994.

    “Mr. Sao Chandara, a journalist of Koh Santepheap, was shot dead on 8 December 1994 in Kompong Cham. A military official was sued, but not sentenced, and he was free from any punishment. The Appeals Court decided to file an appeal against this decision to absolve him from punishment, but the appeal was not filed at the Supreme Court.

    “Mr. Ek Mongkol, a reporter of Radio FM 90 MHz, was shot with many bullets while he was driving along a road in the center of Phnom Penh on 21 October 1995. He survived the shooting.

    “Mr. Thun Bunly, editor-in-chief of Udom Katte Khmer was shot dead by two people ridding on a motorcycle in Phnom Penh on 18 May 1996. Half an hour before he was murdered, he told a friend that he was worried about his safety. In 1995, he had been accused and sentenced twice on accusations of publishing many articles criticizing the Royal Government.

    “Mr. Leng Sam Ang, editor-in-chief of Kumnit Koun Khmer, was hit and shot by police on 2 January 1997. He survived the attack.

    “Mr. Michael Senior, a freelance photographer who was originally Khmer, was shot dead by soldiers when he attempted to take pictures of many soldiers who were stealing goods in a market in Phnom Penh on 8 July 1997.

    Additional Background Information

    Tragedy in Cambodia hits home – A 23-year-old Canadian was among those killed in last months fighting in Cambodia

    PORT MOODY, British Columbia/Canada — Cambodia’s tragedy was brought home when a 23-year-old Cambodian, adopted and raised by a Port Moody couple, was killed July 8 1997. Michael Senior ran afoul of rampaging soldiers in Phnom Penh.

    A memorial service was held 12 July 1997 at Peter and Judy Seniors’ place of worship, Hillside Community Church in Coquitlam, when family members spoke about Michael and several representatives of the Cambodian community shared their thoughts about the crisis in Cambodia.

    “Michael had just gone out of his apartment,” explains his father. “He had a still camera. He saw some soldiers looting stores, and started taking pictures. One of the soldiers shot him in the leg.

    “His wife heard the shot, and came out. He was speaking in Cambodian, telling the soldiers he was sorry for taking the pictures. He and his wife started begging for mercy. The soldiers shot him in front of his wife, and she had to run for her life.”

    “We had her flown out of there the next day,” says Judy Senior. Srey-Pov Senior and her daughter Nina, nine months, arrived in Canada soon afterward and met Michael’s parents for the first time. The family attended a Cambodian memorial service 26 July 1997 at Fraserview Alliance Church in Vancouver. “It would be dangerous for Srey-Pov to go back,” Judy says. “We’re hoping she’ll be able to stay in Canada.”

    “Mr. Thong Uy Pang, editor-in-chief of Koh Santepheap was shot in Phnom Penh on 8 June 1998, but he survived the injury. Last year two grenades were thrown into this newspaper’s office.

    “Mr. Chuo Chetharith, reporter of Radio Ta Prum was shot dead when he arrived at his workplace, by two people riding on a motorcycle, on 18 October 2003.

    “Meanwhile, three other journalists died from violence, cases that have not been solved – Mr. Tou Chhom Mongkol, editor-in-chief of Antarakum died on 11 June 1994; Mr. Pich Em, technician of National Television of Cambodia in Sihanoukville, died on 5 May 1997; and Mr. Ou Sareoun, a journalist of Samleng Reas Khmer was also killed.

    “The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Charge of Human Rights in Cambodia agreed with analysts that impunity is the one major barrier which destroys the rule of law in Cambodia. In most cases when journalists were shot dead, the authorities always said that investigations are being continued, or are not yet finished, or have achieved little results. As a consequence – according to the OHCHR, no criminals have been brought to court to be punished for these crimes.” Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, Vol.15, #3362, 18.7.2008

    Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
    Friday, 18 July 2008


    Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1696, 18.7.2008

    • Cambodia and Thailand Wait for a Result of Negotiations on 21 July 2008
    • Konrad Adenauer Foundation Was Asked to Continue to Help Cambodia [it uses Khmer human resources for 90% of its work to develop the country; this request was made during a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mr. Wolfgang Meyer, representative of the organization, finishing his mission in Cambodia]
    • Korea International Cooperation Agency – KOICA – Helps to Construct More than 14 km of a Road in Chea Lea and Sambour Communes, Batheay District [Kompong Cham]

    Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.2, #201, 18.7.2008

    • Khmer Soldiers from Two Regions [Battambang and Siem Reap] Are Sent to the Disputed Area; More Thai Para Soldiers Are Also Added


    Khmer Sthapana, Vol.1, #52, 18.7.2008

    • Nearly 500 Thai Soldiers Continued to Come into Khmer Land at the Preah Vihear Temple Region
    • Civil Society Organizations Call to Stop Violence during Election Campaign
    • Export of Garments Increase in 2008 [according to Mr. Mean Sophea from the Garment Export Department of the Ministry of Commerce, there is a 5% increase during the period of six months in 2008, and it will continue to rise up to 10% by the end of this year]


    Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6400, 18.7.2008

    • [Khmer] Fishery Official Was Shot Dead [by Vietnamese navy] and Another Official Has Been Arrested in [the Khmer] Sea when They Stopped an [illegal] Yuon [Vietnamese] Fishing Boat [then the Vietnamese navy intervened there was shooting – 17 July 2008 – Kampot]
    • Thailand Continues Increasing Troops; Thai Protesters Who Tried to March to the Preah Vihear Temple Were Blocked by [Thai] Pro-Government Personnel [17 July 2008 – Sisaket Province]
    • [14-year-old] Girl Disappeared, Five Days Later Her Body Was Found in the Jungle; She Had Been Raped and Killed by Breaking Her Neck [Kompong Cham]


    Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3515, 18.7.2008

    • If the Accused Can Talk to Each Other in Detention, It Might Affect the Investigation at the Khmer Rough Tribunal [but a co-lawyer of the former Khmer Rouge leader Mr. Nuon Chea, Mr. Son Arun, said recently that if the court would allow the five accused to sit and talk to each other two or three times per week, it might improve their health and help to release their stress and their hopelessness, so that this special court might finish the process with more success]


    Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4644, 18.7.2008

    • Thailand Still Builds Up Its Troops at the Border; [Thai Prime Minister] Samak: The Three Thai People [who entered Cambodia] Are Provokers; the Thai Army Commander-in-Chief [Anupong Paochinda] Orders Troops to Come Close to Borders; Thailand Mine Action Center [TMAC] Clears Mines Unilaterally
    • Cambodian Prime Minister [Hun Sen] Asked Thai Prime Minister [Samak Sundaravej] to Withdraw Troops from the Region at a Khmer Pagoda [through a letter dated on 17 July 2008]
    • MIG Masters Investment Group Co., Ltd [a Chinese company] Plans to Invest in Public Bus Transportation Sector in Phnom Penh


    Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, Vol.15, #3362, 18.7.2008

    • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia Issued a Statement to Address the Impunity of Murderers and Attempts to Murder Journalists

    Have a look at the last editorial – The struggle towards openness and access to information happens in many places – and it may help to mutually learn from other experiences.

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