Three Cambodian news sites stripped of their licence to publish
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Cambodia’s information ministry to immediately restore the licences it withdrew from three online media outlets for alleged ethical violations after they covered corruption cases. The ministry failed to follow procedure when it revoked the licences and its accusations are spurious, RSF says.
With no prior warning and no possibility of appeal, the three news outlets – Bayong Times, Khmer Cover TV (KCTV) and Cambodia Today – learned that their licences had been rescinded in a letter issued by the information ministry on 15 March accusing them of violating journalistic ethics and their contracts with the ministry.
By way of ethical violations, what the three news sites have in common is having recently published investigative stories about the rampant corruption within Cambodia’s political and economic elites.
Cambodia Today editor Touch Yuthea told RSF he suspected that the withdrawal of his licence was a “personal decision by senior ministry officials in charge of licences” in response to a story about a corrupt contract bidding process at the labour ministry.
“The decision to revoke the licences of Bayong Times, Cambodia Today and KCTV is a gross violation of the freedom of publication as enshrined in article 41 of Cambodia’s constitution,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This is brazen intimidation, and we call on the government to immediately restore the publication licences to these three outlets. Press freedom must not be the collateral victim of the actions of a few corrupt officials.”
Bayong Times publisher Tel Samuth told RSF: “I think cancelling these media outlets will serve to scare many other outlets into ceasing to report the truth.” He added that the information ministry had also violated standard procedure by failing to issue at least two warnings and enter into negotiations before revoking the licences – the procedure established in article 10 of the press law.
When reached by RSF, information minister Khieu Kanharith’s office refused to make any comment. Meanwhile, the ministry has reportedly told the editors of the three publications that they could recover their licences if they “correct” their articles and delete certain content.
Last October, RSF accused the defence minister of abusing his authority by ordering officials to “punish” provincial website operator Youn Chhiv for publishing an investigative report about illegal land seizures. He was sentenced to a year in prison just two days after his arrest.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government embarked on an unrelenting offensive against independent media outlets in 2017 in order to maintain its grip on power, as RSF detailed in a report published in February 2018.
Cambodia is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.