Prime Minister Hun Sen used his first media correspondents’ dinner in Phnom Penh on Saturday to lambast what he called “unprofessional” journalists who were critical of the government and failed to issue corrections when officials called for them.
Hun Sen also apologized to reporters who had not been issued invitations to the event, including US-funded outlets such as VOA and Radio Free Asia, and foreign-based news media.
Speaking largely to officials and reporters from government-friendly media, Hun Sen said he was busy playing golf the previous week and as a result had not made time to check the guest list drawn up by the Ministry of Information.
“Next year we will invite three or four thousand journalists to the gathering, even if they are pro- or anti-government,” he wrote in Facebook after the event. “We live in the same country, even if our perspectives are different ... we can still meet and discuss.”
He went on to criticize reporters who take bribes from officials to bury critical stories, saying those reporters “cannot serve society but encourage corruption instead.”
Ouk Kimseng, Information Ministry spokesman, said there was not room at the event for the opposition-friendly and independent media outlets to be invited.
However, analyst Meas Ny said the decision was likely a calculated one.
“It’s routine for the government that does not like to accept criticism from others, which is the reason that journalists who always criticize the government were not invited,” he said.
Cambodia has 175 radio stations, 24 television stations and more than 450 print media outlets, according to official figures. Reporters Without Borders in 2015 reported that nine major companies owned by influential tycoons with links to the ruling party, including Hun Sen’s own daughter, Hun Mana, control the majority of prominent national media companies.