Warning of Legal Action for Broadcasts From Red Zones, Following Ambulances

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A barrier blocking a street into the Toul Svay Prey I “orange zone” in Phnom Penh on May 1, 2021. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

Journalists broadcasting from red zones, following ambulances or making misleading conclusions “without clear background” will face legal action, the Information Ministry said on Tuesday, as a spokesperson explained that the measures were needed as some had made reports without first verifying with relevant parties.

The ministry notice points to journalists broadcasting live from within red zones, treatment centers and hospitals, as well as following ambulances and “drawing conclusions without clear background” leading to misunderstandings among the public, societal chaos and public health dangers.

“In order to keep social safety and prevent [the spread of] the Covid-19 pandemic into communities, the Ministry of Information would like to instruct all reporters to immediately stop the above activities. In case [one] still violates this notice, [one] will take responsibility before the law,” it says.

Ministry spokesperson Meas Sophorn rejected any concerns that the ministry’s warning might affect press freedom.

“If they do not commit any wrongdoing — how can one take legal action against them unless they commit any wrongdoing? So individuals or reporters that violate the law and professionalism have to take responsibility before the law and that is not a suppression of freedom of expression,” he said.

Sophorn said the ministry had found some journalists had violated the law and the journalistic code of conduct by reporting incidents without first verifying with related parties, and that was why the ministry issued Tuesday’s notice.

“They have to participate in implementing guidelines, rules, including the law, legal regulations. In case they still commit misconduct and violations … they have to take responsibility before the law,” he said.

Nop Vy, executive director of journalists association CamboJA, said news reporting during the lockdown was under pressure.

“I encourage the continuation of reporting the news to the public about the situation of the lockdown and some problems in this area,” Vy said. “As we know, journalism is not a crime. The work of a journalist is to serve the public [to their] advantage, and if there is a lack of news reporting from journalists, I think it would be a problem. When people are not well-informed, we can say that problems in the lockdown areas will face difficulties in getting responses from experts or the government.”

The ministry on Monday said only state media and journalists invited by a governmental committee would be allowed into red zones amid the ongoing Covid-19 surge. The red zones have seen some protests as residents complained of food shortages and lack of income due to business closures.

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