Take Gifts, but Be Truthful: Information Minister Defends Local Journalism Practice

2 min read
Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks to reporters following his return from Myanmar on March 23, 2022. (Foreign Affairs Ministry)

Commemorating press freedom, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said what mattered was that Cambodian journalists aren’t swayed from the truth — and that they could do so even while accepting gifts of cash.

Speaking at a U.N. event in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Kanharith defended journalism in the country against reports of repression, saying other countries were worse when it came to shutting down news outlets and failing to mediate complaints against journalists.

Seven out of nine complaints to the ministry against journalists in 2021 were successfully settled out of court, he said: “So it does not mean that the ministry has not solved the work. We have worked on it.”

He also spoke on journalism ethics, touching on the widespread local practice of handing gifts of cash to reporters who attend marketing and press events — even those hosted by the government.

“The most important thing is to not change white to black,” Kanharith said of journalists’ articles, recalling how a reporter had asked him at a workshop whether they should take a gift or not. “I said you can take it, but after you take it, don’t change white to black or black to white.”

“This is the most important thing, and it is the reality in our country. So what we want is one scale,” he said, arguing the West had double standards. “Today, I think our freedom of the press is better than the E.U. because we have recognized all radio and TV. Even though some have mentioned that we have closed websites, Thailand has closed more than 10,000 websites but no one talked about it.”

Army commander Hun Manet, who headlined the U.N. event, said Cambodia recognized its weaknesses and was developing the country.

“We will try to solve it, if there’s anything. We will challenge each other,” he said. “One scale, not two scales.”

Ung Bun Y, head of the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s department of media and communication, said he couldn’t comment on Kanharith’s views without listening to the speech. A lecturer at the department, Phan Soumy, asked that questions be directed to Bun Y.

Club of Cambodian Journalists president Pen Bona said Kanharith was only joking, but also said he agreed. “Maybe yes we can accept money, but as Kanharith said, not write from white to black.”

Cambodian Journalists Alliance director Nop Vy, however, said journalists should not be taking money from sources.

“Once you accept a gift, you miss the hand [that gave it],” Vy said. “As journalists, to show our purity, to show our professionalism and neutrality, we should not accept money. We should not accept bribes from our sources.”

“It will ensure that we are completely free from pressures … without worrying about affecting the source.”

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