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Organization Ranks Cambodia Media ‘Not Free’

Harassment of Cambodian journalists and the murder of an opposition reporter during 2008’s national election period contributed to Cambodia’s “not free” press status by the organization Freedom House, an official said.

The “not free” status is shared by countries such as Burma, China, Cuba, Iran and North Korea, and was issued by Freedom House in its annual report.

“It was actually the impact of the election last year and greater harassment and the murder of the journalist in Cambodia,” said Karin Karlekar, managing editor for freedom of the press at Freedom House. She spoke at a ceremony in Washington marking the release of the report.

Opposition journalist Khim Sambo was shot dead along with his son in July 2008, just two weeks before Cambodians went to the polls to elect National Assembly representatives. That murder, for which no arrests have been made, followed the detention of Dam Sith, the editor of the same opposition paper, Moneaksekar Khmer.

The “not free” rating was a slide for Cambodia, which was given “partly free” status the previous year.

Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said by phone the murder was under investigation and Freedom House’s rating did not accurately reflect Cambodia’s media environment.

Cambodian journalists “can write whatever, even criticizing the prime minister, which does not happen in other countries,” he said, adding that the “effectiveness and quality are another matter.”

Most of Cambodia’s media, especially broadcast, provide favorable coverage of the ruling party, and critics say biased coverage affects the outcomes of elections.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, responding to a recent story about land grabbing, called one of the largest papers, Reaksmey Kampuchea, a mouthpiece for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Cambodia ranked 61st of 132 countries in the Freedom House report, in a year where the organization said press freedom had declined in every region for the first time.