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Cambodia Ranked 117 in Press Freedom, a Slight Improvement

Reporters Without Borders said in an annual report last week that Cambodia had moved up in press freedom, but concerns over threats to journalists remain.

Cambodia was ranked No. 117 of 175 countries, an improvement from its No. 126 position last year, which came from the murder of an opposition journalist and his son ahead of a national election.

However, at least one opposition journalist was jailed in 2009, following reporting on corruption within the powerful Council of Ministers.

Journalists worldwide suffer from murder, imprisonment and the threat of revoked license, Reporters Without Borders said. In countries like Burma, China, North Korea and Vietnam, still restrict access to the Internet, the group said.

The report confirms a statement made by Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Washington Post, earlier this month.

“Some governments inevitably attempt to the unnatural and try to suppress the growth of journalism,” he said. “The Russian government has forced most of its news agency operations into the government’s hand, and many, far too many, good journalists have been assassinated with impunity.

“Until recently, Zimbabwe intimidated, imprisoned and induced to leave the country both foreign and local journalists and may still up to date,” he continued. “In Cambodia, a journalist and his son were murdered after writing critical articles of the government and a publisher was imprisoned and fined for disinformation and for dishonoring public officials.”

However, Pen Samithy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said journalists in the country are still able to do their work.

“According to my observation, the overall concern that journalists have does not prevent them from reflecting the truth,” he told VOA Khmer. “This means that every day journalists work with a higher responsibility to making improvements in the quality of journalism in Cambodia.”

Meanwhile, journalists who perform their jobs in the face of oppression have not gone unrecognized.

Peter Mackler, a former journalist for Agence France-Presse, died in June 2008 at 58, suffering an apparent heart attack after working in journalism for more than 30 years. As a reporter and editor, Mackler covered the Gulf War in 1991; conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan; the Palestinian intifada; the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York; and George W. Bush’s presidency.

He trained journalists in some developing countries like Lebanon, Iran, Malaysia and Cyprus. He also trained VOA Khmer staff.

In memory of Mackler’s work, his family and friends set up the “Peter Mackler Award” to honor courageous and ethical journalists. The first winner was a Sri Lankan journalist sentenced to 20 years in jail for inciting “communal disharmony.”

“I am delighted to hear that you are honoring Peter’s legacy by recognizing courageous and ethical journalists with the Peter Mackler Award,” former US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice said in a letter to organizers. “Throughout his distinguished thirty-three year career in journalism, Peter was a champion of the freedom of the press who fought tirelessly to defend the rights of reporters to publish stories without fear of retribution.”

In Cambodia, Hang Chakra, publisher of the opposition Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, remains in jail for an article dishonoring a senior government official.

Reporters Without Borders has also appealed for his release.

This year’s ranking puts Cambodia above neighboring Thailand, which was ranked No. 130.