An online news reporter is facing heavy criticism from several directions after filming a live video accusing a monk who was seen running along Phnom Penh’s riverside of being on drugs.
The monk’s family calls the reporter’s accusation “absolutely unacceptable” as the monk was suffering from a chronic illness; social media users have blasted the reporter for “ruining the religion”; and the Information Ministry has called a meeting with the journalist while pointing out that his online outlet is unlicensed.
On Tuesday night, a monk was seen running about the Royal Palace, throwing a bottle of water on the road and hitting a parked car’s mirror. Amid the shock of onlookers, online news reporters arrived and went live on Facebook.
In videos of the incident, the monk does not seem to know what he is saying. In one feed, Choung Makara, a news reporter at online outlet Tep Pon, begins shouting that the monk is “using drugs.”
“You are a monk — why are you using drugs? This monk is addicted to drugs. He is hitting people’s cars,” Makara says in his broadcast.
“What kind of drugs are you using? You are speaking Chinese. You are probably using Chinese drugs,” Makara shouts aggressively.
After some time, Daun Penh authorities take the monk away, and call his family in Kampot to bring him home.
“This man is so unprofessional. He is so rude. How can he become a journalist?” reads one Facebook comment criticizing Makara.
Another says “You are ruining the religion” through the reporting.
Preng Nearodey, 20, the sister of the monk, Prerng Phealerng, denied on Thursday that her brother had taken drugs.
For about six years, Phealerng had been dealing with a chronic condition she believed to be an ongoing case of meningitis.
He had initially left the monkhood at 18 because of the illness, and after a few years seemed to be improving. So he worked as a microfinance credit officer for six months earlier this year in his hometown in Kampot province.
However, Phealerng, now 24, faced a recent relapse of his symptoms, causing headaches and forcing him to stop his work.
“During this time, my brother said he wanted to be a monk again for a week as he missed life in the clergy. So he asked my parents for permission to start his life as a monk again at a pagoda in my hometown,” she said.
But after just one day, Phealerng had traveled to Phnom Penh on his own.
“No one knew he had gone — until Tuesday night, when we saw him on Facebook live. It was unbelievable to see him like that,” she said.
“He was of sound mind before he was found in Phnom Penh. He knew everything and he did not behave the way he does in the live video. It is heartbreaking to see the reporter accuse him of using drugs. It is absolutely unacceptable for us as a family.”
Phealerng is now staying in Kampot, but his symptoms are getting worse, she said. He was behaving violently and unable to control his feelings.
“We are providing medicine to help him calm down. And for now, my mom is considering selling a plot of land to get money and take him to the hospital. It is hard to see him suffering this way,” she said.
Makara, the Tep Pon news reporter, said on Thursday that he was sorry for accusing the monk of using drugs without knowing the situation.
“Now I know what I did is completely wrong. It is too hard for him, apparently. So I would like to ask for forgiveness from the family and those who watched my Facebook live,” he said.
Makara added that he had received a letter from the Information Ministry asking him to meet them at the ministry tomorrow.
Phos Sovann, the ministry’s spokesman, said four unlicensed news websites had covered the incident of the monk in Phnom Penh: Tep Pon, Cam News, 01TV Online and M Decor.
For now, the ministry was simply asking them to remove their live broadcasts from their pages, Sovann said.
“We have been working on this issue since yesterday. Regarding the case of unlicensed news websites, we are not addressing it directly, but we are recording what has happened and will send it to the Interior Ministry accordingly,” he said.