A group of Cambodian journalists were issued a license on Tuesday to form a new press association, which the members say will help protect reporters and editors in a challenging media environment.
The Cambodian Journalists Alliance, also known as CamboJA, received its license from the Ministry of Information on Tuesday, and will be latest press association in the country, taking the tally to 42 groups.
May Titthara, the group’s executive director, said members represent independent news organizations and many of whom were affected by the free press crackdown.
He said CamboJA will first look to help reporters and freelancers who have to work in an increasingly difficult press freedom environment, especially in the rural areas.
“Our goal is to first focus on those journalists who work with professionalism. And if their professionalism causes problems for them, we will study legal mechanism to advocate for them,” he told VOA Khmer.
The development comes amid an ongoing press crackdown by the government that has seen the shuttering of independent news organizations and radio stations in the country.
Other journalist associations have faced accusations of being politically-aligned to the ruling party, with its member either appointed as government advisors or directly working for the government.
May Titthara pointed out that these groups rarely advocated for independent journalists, who are often targeted.
This was the case when two former Radio Free Asia reporters, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were arrested in 2017 on alleged espionage charges. None of the local press associations released any statements to condemn the arrests.
However, a group of independent reporters, many of whom are now part of CamboJA, released an open letter asking the government to release the duo. Nearly two years after their arrest, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin are still on bail awaiting an end to their prolonged trial.
Phos Sovann, director of the Information Ministry’s general department of information and broadcasting, confirmed the creation of the association. He said that of the 42 existing groups some were inactive. He added that the ministry was considering changing the guidelines to end these inactive associations.
Interior Ministry official Huy Vannak, who also heads the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia, welcomed the creation of the new press association and looked forward to cooperating with its members.
“There remains a lot of work for us to work together to develop our nascent news sector to be more mature,” he said.
CamboJA’s fifteen founding members consist of current or former journalists from six news outlets, including Voice of Democracy, The Cambodia Daily, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, as well as freelance journalists.