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Independent media under attack

Threats, intimidation and legal action from the Cambodian government have "whittled down" independent media in the country, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a new report. And free expression restrictions in the new criminal code will severely reduce journalists' ability to report on corruption within the ruling elite and private sector abuses.

The report, "Prime Minister, you promised that no more journalists would go to prison", is based on the findings of an RSF delegate who went to Cambodia last December to evaluate the press freedom situation and try to influence authorities to decriminalise press offences. RSF spoke to the information minister, diplomats, newspaper publishers, journalists, opposition politicians and representatives of human rights organisations.

The price of independent reporting deters many journalists from doing their jobs. "Senior officials do not hesitate to go to court to seek revenge for outspoken articles, exposing their critics to the risk of heavy fines or jail sentences," says RSF. In May 2009, all 10 television stations in the country were linked to the ruling party and there were only four independent or opposition radio stations. Opposition newspapers are disappearing as they continue to be hit with lawsuits. And opposition journalists never publish with a by-line because of the arrests and murders of journalists in the past. The government will not grant radio or television licences to opposition or independent figures.

The report cites recent revisions of the criminal code and the lack of transparency around amendments. Although the 1995 press law protects press freedom to some degree, it also says "the press must not publish reports that could affect national security and political stability." This language can easily be used against journalists. Government lawyers circumvent press safeguards by bringing legal actions under the criminal code. And defamation is still a crime.

To read the full report:

Prime Minister, you promised that no more journalists would go to prison

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