Freedom of the Press and of Information
On Monday, 25 April 2011, I was invited by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Foundation) to attend the opening ceremony of the jointly organized workshop of the foundation with Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Information. Mr. Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information of the Royal Government gave the opening speech. It was not my first direct encounter with him, but it was my first time to hear him speaking so often about the situation of press freedom in Cambodia and some internal and external politics. He did not have his prepared speech, but talked directly referring to his notes.
He mentioned that in Cambodia, there are more than 600 newspapers and magazines, more than 100 radio stations and 11 TV stations. Two more TV stations will be opened soon. People can have access to 65 TV programs via cable TV. There are also Radio Free Asia and Voice of America in Khmer, which will be re-broadcasted via local stations. Besides this traditional media system, there are modern social media systems such as Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Flickers, and Internet etc, which contribute a lot to provide information to people. The freedom of the press and of information, according to him, is to some degrees guaranteed.
What I liked the most from his speech is that he talked freely about the needs of press freedom, voice of opposition parties, a strong civil society and the uprising in Tunisia and the Middle East. He said that in a real “Democracy” there are three main characteristics as follows:
- Pluralism and the existence of multi-party system. Only one ruling party manages everything, would not be possible. In the case of Tunisia, there is no opposition parties, who could give constructive criticism and feedback to the ruling party. The result is that the system is collapsed due to people’s power uprising.
- A strong and vibrant civil society, who could help the government and is complementary to the works of the government; it could be also a mirror of the government.
- Independent and professional media system. Politicians need also the press as the press does need politicians. They are two pictures on both sides on one piece of paper. He urged that the press should have maximum responsibility of what they report avoiding unnecessary lawsuits against them. He urged his officials to report to the higher level all information from the grassroots, both good and bad information, so that the government could take care for action to help people on time.
I was surprised to hear that he talked openly about the Tunisia’s case and its implication of democratic development in our country. I do hope that what he says is what he means. It is important to note that he was a journalist and editor in chief of “Kampuchea” newspaper in the eighties. He was once critical to the government and was also put on the sideline. Since then he never does it again. He is one of the spokesperson of the government.
During the workshop, participants are officials at Ministries, governors and vice-governors of all provinces and municipality, students of the Media Department of the Royal University of Phnom Penh and other invited guests. The workshop lasts one day. My profound thank is given to Mrs. Rabea Brauer, KAS Country Representative, who invited me on behalf of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation to join this important event.