Information Ministry Blames Candlelight for Fake Statement and ‘Creating Chaos’

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Journalists listen to a Prime Minister Hun Sen speech last week. (Hun Sen’s Facebook)
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The Information Ministry has taken down a statement that appeared to show the Candlelight Party applauding the arrest of its vice president, but blamed poor organization in the opposition party for “releasing information without consensus and creating chaos.”

On Tuesday, the ministry posted to its official Facebook page an apparent Candlelight Party statement with the party’s letterhead saying the recent arrest of its vice president Thach Setha was “correct and in line with legal procedures in Cambodia with no connection to political matters.”

But the ministry had been misled, the Information Ministry acknowledged.

“This statement, which the ministry’s information agency received from a senior official of the Candlelight Party, led our agent to believe that it was a true Candlelight Party statement,” it said on Thursday. But Candlelight denied the statement, and the ministry deleted the uncited fake document. It did not say who the senior official who provided the statement was.

The ministry instead called on the Candlelight Party to reconsider its internal working group, which it said “appeared to be splitting into groups leading to releasing information without consensus and creating chaos.”

Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay said the party will help authorities investigate Candlelight over the statement.

“We cannot blame the ministry over disseminating the statement. We will work with the authorities to investigate the perpetrators of this statement, as well as whether there were any mistakes within our party.”

Nop Vy, director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance, said the incident raised questions about the ministry’s verification of news sources.

It showed negligence on the part of the ministry, which only took the party’s stamp and logo to classify the document as real even though the ministry has a team to monitor and cross-check fake news, Vy said.

“It is very easy to create false information or fake documents, and it can affect the image of the ministry and government leaders,” he said. “Anyone can do that in the area of technology.”

“I do not know if the document was reviewed by the technical team to be analyzed for accuracy, but there should be a mechanism in place to monitor and cross-check the statement before posting on the ministry’s Facebook page.”

Vy continued the ministry should have verified the document with more sources after receiving it from the unnamed “senior official” from Candlelight.

“When the ministry posted the fake news and then deleted it, it lost the trust of the people and caused the public to misunderstand the information.”

Though many news items are echoed among many publications, only the Information Ministry posted the fake Candlelight statement. Lim Cheavutha, the head of pro-government breaking newsite Fresh News, said: “I did not receive any statement.”

Combating “fake news” has been an emphasis of the government in recent years, with the label usually directed at information that goes against the ruling party’s interests.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, in an annual meeting with journalists on January 14, 2023, emphasized the need to actively prevent the spread of false information.

“Participate in the fight against false information and fake news in both national and international frameworks,” he said at the time. “False information and fake news is psychological, and causes social unrest, political instability, social insecurity, and hostility with foreigners.”

The Information Ministry later cited the prime minister’s two slogans for journalists to follow: “Do not abuse others; do not distort the truth,” and, “Publish true information; do not make mistakes about others.”

Ministry spokesperson Meas Sophorn on Thursday directed reporters to its statement, and hung up when asked whether the ministry had checked with the Candlelight “senior official” whether the statement was fabricated or not.

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