Media Call to End Impunity Against Journalists

Journalists and embassies are calling on authorities to allow the press to practise freely and protect them for a healthy democracy
Diplomats, journalists, and other guests gathered at the War Correspondents Memorial to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Diplomats, journalists, and other guests gathered at the War Correspondents Memorial to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. Kiripost/Siv Channa

The alleged deterioration of press freedom since 2017 and the closing of independent media outlets, such as Voice of Democracy, has restricted the access to “reliable source of information” and impacted the promotion of social accountability and justice.

Hang Samphors, Cambodian Female Journalist team leader, said freedom of expression is the catalyst for other rights, noting that an open space for press freedom enables freedom of expression which is important for a healthy democracy.

She said independent media hold officials accountable and is vital for deep reforms in society.

Sustainable development will be difficult to achieve if the government fails to respond to the needs of vulnerable people, particularly in the guarantee of press freedom.

Noting that there has been an increase in registered youth-run online news portals, Samphors urged that the absence of self-censorship would ensure more freedom for the press to thrive.

However, the deterioration of press freedom has increased restrictions on vulnerable people to reliable news outlets, she said at an event marking the 30th World Press Freedom Day.

Hang Samphors, Cambodian Female Journalist team leader. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Hang Samphors, Cambodian Female Journalist team leader. Kiripost/Siv Channa
“A healthy democracy is not afraid of people’s input. On the contrary, it should be promoted for their effective participation in the digital age in society,” Samphors said.

‘Food and oxygen’

Criminal charges and impunity continue to scare journalists which limit their capabilities, freedom and willpower in doing their job, making them fear for their own safety.

“Freedom, independence and diversity of news outlets are the backbone of a democracy,” she asserted.

As a journalist, she wants to see the Cambodian press enjoy full freedom and be free of pressure and intimidation, and for Cambodia to be a country where freedom of press and expression are its core values.

“I want the government to put an end to impunity against journalists and strengthen its partnership with the press. Press freedom is as necessary as food and oxygen for us all,” Samphors said.

That said, she lauded the annual dialogues between the media and government and the creation of a spokesperson unit for national and sub-national institutions.

37 lives lost

Meanwhile, Jacques Pellet, French Ambassador in Cambodia, stressed that press freedom is “more crucial than ever” as elections are coming up.

“In Cambodia, recent decisions and developments have raised concerns on the ability of media and journalists to fully and freely play their key role before the upcoming elections in July,” he added.

Speaking at the event, he said France has previously expressed its concerns and again called on concerned parties to ensure a safe environment for journalists in the coming weeks and beyond.

While expressing solidarity with journalists who are fighting to freely exercise their profession, Pellet emphasised that press freedom must be “unconditionally guaranteed” by all the governments across the world, including in Cambodia.

He also honoured the memory of 37 foreign journalists from nine countries in Cambodia, seven of whom are French, who lost their lives in the line of duty between 1970 and 1975.

“My thoughts also go to the dozens of Cambodian journalists who died during the same period. They all were young women and men who disappeared for wanting to reveal the harsh reality of war to the world.

“It is a poignant reminder of the importance of press freedom and the bravery of journalists who risk their lives to inform the public,” he pointed out.

Media Freedom Act

According to Reporter Without Borders, 55 journalists were killed in 2022, including six in Ukraine, Pellet said, noting that in the EU, two journalists lost their lives in 2021.

Press freedom is a fundamental pillar of any democratic society, holding governments accountable for their actions and ensuring that citizens are informed in a fair and impartial manner.

However, the multiple crises around the world demonstrate that media freedom and the safety of journalists continue to be threatened. Moreover economic pressure puts many media at risk worldwide, he said.

Pellet mentioned that the EU will soon pass a Media Freedom Act which aims to guarantee journalists’ protection as well as their economic sustainability.

Staking his appreciation of the press at the event, Patrick Murphy, US Ambassador to Cambodia, reminded that freedom of the press is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and in the Cambodian constitution.

“We honour and recall journalists who pursue the truth, particularly those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of their profession.

“But these sacrifices are not a historic phenomenon as journalists continue to pay a price through harassment, detention, revocation of licences and worse,” Murphy said.

Diplomats, journalists, and other guests gathered at the War Correspondents Memorial to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Diplomats, journalists, and other guests gathered at the War Correspondents Memorial to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Last year, 67 journalists were killed worldwide, twice more than the previous years, he said, expressing shock.

“Today, we don’t only honour the losses but celebrate the media which promotes democratic principles, transparency and ensures that voices are heard,” he said.

‘Don’t be the source of it’

Murphy stated that the US “stands by courageous journalists who investigate, bring truth to light, tell stories that others won’t tell and despite the risk, continue to inform and educate people”.

In Cambodia, the US supports the construction of a robust media environment through student exchanges and higher education, partnering with the media to tell the truth.

He cited a mock press conference on US-Cambodia relations by 30 journalism students, where he was impressed by their quality, insightfulness of their inquisitive questioning with him, and willingness to pursue the profession despite challenges.

“We remain concerned by efforts to suppress free speech in Cambodia. We urge authorities to promote media freedom so that journalists can do their job without fear of reprisal.

“We also urge them to protect journalists from violence and harassment, not be the source of it and encourage violence. We will continue to work with partners to promote press freedom as it strengthens democracy, and brings more yields. I tell authorities this all the time,” Murphy said.

“With greater press freedom, you will have more inclusivity, achieve more sustainable development, economic growth, peace and stability,” he added.