Young Buddhist monks pray before lunch at a temple in Samrong district in Cambodia's Takeo province on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Jan. 23. Media freedom in Cambodia is under increasing threat. (Photo: AFP)
The General Commissariat of National Police has banned Cambodian journalists from filming or recording police investigations, warning that legal action would be taken under the press law against any reporter who violates the directive.
The order was issued on Jan. 22 and became effective immediately, according to Lt. Gen. Sar Theth, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Police.
He said this would allow the police to perform their duties without interference or obstruction from journalists.
“As police are carrying out the work or are monitoring, targeting and cracking down on crime, for those [journalists] who violate the instructions of the authorities, legal action will be taken against them as well as per the press law,” he said.
The directive prohibits filming or recording police investigations of criminal activities, such as by surveillance, monitoring and identifying suspects, their location or a crime scene.
Sar Theth said police needed to effectively monitor and investigate all criminal cases, especially those related to criminal security, drugs, human trafficking, immigration and illegal gambling, so as to crack down on the perpetrators and their operational locations.
“Journalists or reporters are not allowed to broadcast live while the authorities are on a mission to carry out their duties and on an actual crime scene,” he told the government-friendly Khmer Times.
The independent press in Cambodia has been severely curtailed in recent years amid a government crackdown on dissidents and critics in the wake of elections in 2013 when the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) refused to accept the results.
Violent protests followed, the CNRP was dissolved and many news outlets were shuttered or sold off to government-friendly business interests. That included the closure of the Cambodia Daily and the sale of the Phnom Penh Post after both were hit by the tax department.
The long ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) then secured absolute control by winning every seat contested for the National Assembly at elections in 2018.
Since then the situation has improved but ever so slightly. Online government-friendly news portals have emerged but independent media outlets are struggling after Western business interests fled following the last election and the economy went into recession amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are many unresolved cases in Cambodia that include killings and corruption which have sometimes been linked to the ruling elites, and this type of decree will prevent inquiring reporters from doing a job that is in the public interest,” said one local analyst who declined to be named.
“It is also against the constitution, which is supposed to guarantee press freedom.”