Ministry Finds 1,061 ‘Fake News’ Items, 910 About Incitement or Gov’t Insult

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Journalists gather across the street from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 15, 2020 for opposition leader Kem Sokha’s treason trial. (Matt Surrusco/VOD)
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Some 1,061 cases of “fake news” have been identified by the Information Ministry this year, according to a ministry report — 910 of them for inciting criticism of the government or insulting the country’s leaders.

Ninety-five of the remaining cases are for disseminating false information, while 56 are for unspecified fake news on “other” social media channels such as TikTok and YouTube.

The report, from the ministry’s Fake News Monitoring Committee, counts 515 cases of incitement and criticism of the government and fabricating facts, and 395 cases of insulting the king and other government leaders. The 1,061 total is in line with last year, it says.

“For unprofessional journalism, disseminating false information and incitement to create chaos affecting the interests and prestige of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the ministry has measures to educate, advise and warn journalists who commit ethical misconduct, suspension or revocation of licenses of unprofessional media units, dissemination of false information and fake news to the court in accordance with legal procedures,” the report says. It does not contain a list of actions taken.

The ministry’s broadcasting director, Phos Sovann, said relevant authorities had been informed of the findings in order to identify the individuals and institutions spreading fake news and to take legal action.

Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance, said that in order to be transparent about the findings of the report, the ministry should explain it clearly and comprehensively, and disseminate it to the public so that there will be no confusion over any false allegations against journalists or institutions.

If the ministry does not show transparency in its research reports, press freedoms are at risk, he said.

“If we lack transparency in the review and evaluation, it indicates a threat to the freedom of the press,” Vy said. “It’s a message that raises concerns about the freedoms of journalists and people who want to participate in socially minded work through the writing or posting of information.”

“The basic freedom of the people’s freedom of expression is very important. If the assessment is inaccurate, it could affect the fundamental freedoms of the people. This is something we are concerned about,” he added.

On Monday, the ministry announced it was setting up a new committee to monitor and evaluate the work of individual journalists and media outlets.

A survey by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, VOD’s parent organization, says that, “surprisingly,” only 16 percent of respondents think press freedom in the country is on the right track. The 2020 Challenges for Independent Media report, breaking from the series’ previous editions, had only 32 percent of 107 respondents as journalists, with the remainder including citizen journalists, civil society officers, public officials and others.

Reporters Without Borders has ranked Cambodia 144th out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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