After overseeing Cambodia’s Ministry of Information for more than 12 years, Khieu Kanharith has announced that he will retire from the ministry at the time of the 2018 elections, officials said Tuesday.
Khieu Kanharith, in his mid 60s, worked as a journalist after the fall of Khmer Rouge and became editor-in-chief of a government-friendly newspaper. He was appointed to be the minister of information in 2003, having served as secretary of state at the ministry since 1993.
The government spokesman has frequently been blamed by Prime Minister Hun Sen for giving interviews to the international press that have affected Cambodia's reputation.
He announced on Monday during a meeting at the ministry that he will step down so that young blood from the party will have an opportunity to help improve the free press in Cambodia, according to Ouk Kimseng, undersecretary of state at the ministry.
“He used to say it in the past telling colleagues at the ministry. Yesterday, at the meeting with news correspondents from the provinces and Phnom Penh, he said that in the next mandate, after his mandate, he will stop. He will rest and stop working as a Minister of Information,” Kimseng said.
Kem Gunawadh, director general of the National Television of Cambodia (TVK), told VOA Khmer that Kanharith told his fellow government journalists to develop their capacity and strengthen their ethics following his resignation announcement.
“He reminded all his journalists that they must strive to learn by themselves and strengthen the journalism profession,” Gunawadh said.
Kanharith could not be reached for comment.
Both Kimseng and Gunawadh said they did not know who would replace Kanharith, nor whether the ruling Cambodian People’s Party would promote him to another role after his resignation.
However, Gunawadh said the future resignation would be the end of a long career of service to Cambodia’s media.
“I do not think it is a loss, but a gain of an experienced elder, who had sacrificed his life, or half of his life, for the media sector. We acknowledge that he is a Khmer person who has completed a long professional life in the field of news with the government,” Gunawadh said.
Independent journalist and director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, Moeun Chhean Nariddh, said Kanharith’s announcement was good democratic practice. However, he said, Kanharith would be missed as he had managed the role well, “staying neutral and helping the journalists”
“In these circumstances, we do not yet know what position he [Kanharith] will get,” Chhean Nariddh said. “But for me, there is no post well suited for him other than Minister of Information, and no one else who fits his position as Minister of Information.”