Hun Sen Calls for ‘Education’ of Journalists After Reporter’s Traffic Accident Rant

4 min read
TVFB journalist Sovann Rithy, in a photo posted to his Facebook page on January 14, 2023.
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Prime Minister Hun Sen told the minister of information to “call all online journalists to get education” in a speech after a TV reporter faced criticism for his behavior while doing a live video of a Phnom Penh traffic accident earlier this week.

In the video, which has since been deleted, online TVFB reporter Sovann Rithy appeared to reprimand a passerby who lifted up a motorbike off the ground after the accident, telling him that he was interfering with the accident even after the man apologized.

The incident prompted a spate of online criticism from people — including officials — who defended the passerby’s actions and accused Rithy of acting outside his role as a journalist. At a graduation speech Thursday, the prime minister himself weighed in, saying he wasn’t sure whether Information Minister Khieu Kanharith would take action against the reporter but “whether it is right or wrong to pick up the moto, it is important to help each other in an accident.”

“I do not know what right a journalist has to warn people like that. It does not make any sense and it is not acceptable to talk like this,” he said. “I would not say anything if you are the police, but you just have a phone and do the video live. A journalist is not the judicial police.”

“Kanharith, now it is time, you should call all online journalists to get education,” he said. “And I hope something like this does not happen again.”

In the original video, the passerby said that he lifted the motorbike off the ground without realizing the rider had been involved in an accident and was trying to help. “I thought he fell by himself,” the man said. Even so, reporter Rithy kept shoving the microphone in his face and questioning the man: “Have you asked others [about this] or not? Have you seen anyone around?”

“What is your duty to lift up the bike?” he added.

Soon after, commenters took to Facebook to blame Rithy for what they referred to as unprofessional behavior, saying he acted as though he were a police officer.

Among those who commented was Education Ministry secretary of state Sar Sokha, who posted a clip of the video. The man who lifted the bike may not have realized police were on the way, Sokha wrote, and blaming him could encourage people to abandon the culture of helping one another.

He added that reporters doing live videos should follow their duties and ethics and refrain from playing the role of a police officer or having strong arguments with anyone.

Sokha is son of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, and tipped for potential future promotions as one of the next generation of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

On Tuesday, reporter Rithy released a video apologizing for his behavior and explaining that he decided to delete the original video. But some people had grabbed at the opportunity of his mistake to post insulting messages about him, he said.

“I came out just to raise my hand and say sorry to people who were watching,” he said. “If any act or gesture or my words last night affected your feelings, I apologize.”

Rithy could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Information Ministry, Meas Sophorn, told VOD that the information and broadcasting department will look into the case and question Rithy before deciding whether to take action against him.

Rithy was previously jailed on incitement charges after quoting the prime minister on his personal Facebook page.

“We will ask about information related to this case to gain thorough information from this case with the owner of the website,” he said. “Then, the department will look into and ask leaders of how to implement the next actions.”

Sophorn said that while the majority of the reporters have fulfilled their duty well in disseminating news to people, some reporters have not behaved totally professionally and that the ministry always appeals to all reporters to follow professional standards and regulations, and refrain from straying outside their roles as reporters.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sokseyha said the accident involved a motorbike and tuk-tuk. He said it had caused minor injuries and the case was resolved between the two drivers.

He said the man who intervened had good intentions and moved the bike out of concern that another accident might happen if it was left in the road.

Sokseyha added that the reporter should not have gone beyond the limit of his role or blamed or insulted the man.

“I would like to ask the media establishments and some reporters, especially those groups who do live [videos] when there are any incidents, please follow their duty and professionalism and don’t do anything beyond their limit.”

“Don’t play the role of judicial police,” he added.

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