Government representatives in Cambodia on Thursday told journalists to use honorific titles when referring to high-ranking officials, especially in the case of officials afforded the title of “samdech”.
In December, the Ministry of Information said all media should use the honorific title reserved for a small number of elite officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Phos Sovann, director general of the ministry’s department of information and broadcasting, warned Thursday that the ministry would take action against outlets that did not follow the guidelines for reporting.
Punitive action could include rescinding press credentials and even censorship of local media companies who fail to follow the order.
Ouk Kimseng, an undersecretary of state at the Information Ministry, on Thursday dismissed criticism that the move was a suppression of freedom of the press.
“No we have passed the stage of compromise and making requests. We need to work together. The ministry’s request does not have a negative impact on freedom of the press,” he told a room of journalists.
In an apparent swipe at foreign journalists, Ouk Kimseng said that as a sovereign country Cambodian traditions must be upheld. “We must say, if you are not happy to be here, get out,” he said.
Journalists have complained that it is not practical to repeat the often long titles of officials in Cambodia in every article.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said it was not required by law to refer to officials by their honorific titles.
“I think it should be the choice of media and journalists to use the word or not. Leave it to the general public to evaluate the media. If the public doesn’t like radio or a TV station or a newspaper for not using the titles, they won’t listen to the radio, watch the TV station or read the newspaper. The media organization will shut down. This is a basic principle of free press and professionalism,” he said.
Reporters from media targeted by the order have rallied, saying that media institutions with close relationships with the government are receiving preferential treatment.
Chhean Narridh said that the burgeoning social media environment had led to a drop in ethical standards among Cambodian media professionals.
“Journalists’ roles are to minimize harm to any victims. When you realize your report could harm a victim we should avoid that. Journalists also should promote peace in society. If your reporting stirs insecurity, that is your mistake,” he said.