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Cambodian Media Outlet to Relaunch From the US

FILE - Supporters of online media outlet Voice of Democracy (VOD) hold placards in front of VOD office in Phnom Penh, Feb. 13, 2023.
FILE - Supporters of online media outlet Voice of Democracy (VOD) hold placards in front of VOD office in Phnom Penh, Feb. 13, 2023.

One of Cambodia’s last independent media outlets, which was shuttered earlier this year, is set to reopen in Tacoma, Washington, in the Pacific United States.

Cambodian authorities revoked the license for Voice of Democracy in February in a move that shocked press freedom advocates and the media outlet’s journalists.

But a statement on the news outlet’s Facebook page this month said it will relaunch with half-hour broadcasts aired on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok beginning October 2.

Voice of Democracy will operate under Pa Nguon Teang, founder and former executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, which managed the outlet before it was closed. He left Cambodia more than five years ago and resigned from the center in August.

He told VOA Khmer he decided to resume Voice of Democracy because he saw a need for Cambodians to access accurate information and independent journalism.

The relaunch will also help promote press freedom and free expression, he said.

The approach of the media outlet will be the same, but Pa Nguon Teang said the journalists reporting for him will not be in Cambodia.

Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance, or CamboJA, said that broadcasting from overseas presents challenges.

“Although we now have advances in technology, social media, online communication, we cannot guarantee that local people can communicate or use all of them,” he said.

Still, Nop Vy said, the relaunch of Voice of Democracy has been applauded by many and is seen as an opportunity for audiences to access information.

Founded in 2003, the organization had been a trusted source of information until the Ministry of Information revoked its license on the orders of then-Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The order was in response to the media outlet reporting on Cambodia agreeing to send $100,000 in humanitarian aid to Turkey after last week’s devastating earthquake.

Voice of Democracy reported that Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, had signed an aid order on behalf of his father.

Hun Manet, who in August was endorsed as Cambodia’s new leader, denied that was the case and demanded an apology.

Voice of Democracy sent two letters to Hun Sen expressing “regret” and requesting “forgiveness [for] any unintentional wrongdoing.”

The media outlet later ran a follow-up story to say that Hun Manet had denied signing the order.

But the move to revoke the license remained.

Ministry of Information spokesperson Tep Asnarith declined to comment on the news that Voice of Democracy will relaunch.

“Please be informed that the Ministry of Information has not commented on this beside the previous decision [to revoke the license],” he said via Telegram.

When Voice of Democracy had its license revoked, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media created a website called Kamnotra, where it republished the media outlet’s old articles and to navigate the data information from the Cambodia government.

The center has said that while it used to oversee the media outlet, it will not be involved in the relaunch.

Chhan Sokunthea, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said that Voice of Democracy played an important role in providing accurate and independent information.

She added that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are severely restricted, especially for journalists who report on issues seen as sensitive.

“We see that the freedom of the press in Cambodia, especially the journalists who dare to report the truth to the public, are always threatened or harassed,” she said.

Cambodia has a poor press freedom record, ranking 147 out of 180 on the world press freedom index, where 1 shows the best media environment.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the index, says the country’s independent media have long faced pressure.