Skip to Main Content

Cambodian Newspaper Project: Historical overview

A collection of Cambodian newspapers in the 1990s, a transition period when Cambodia emerged from a communist to a liberal democratic state. A historical collection that can tell so many stories Cambodia experienced during this transition period.

Historical Overview - Quotes

“Personalities such as Sihanouk, Thanh, Boret, and Samphan, key players in Cambodian politics, were the main force in the development of the press. Their influence shaped it, and some among them, like Sihanouk, Boret, and Samphan, suppressed it. Thanh was the only character on the Cambodian centre-stage who remained pure to his democratic ideals, and tried to usher in the press freedom. While Sihanouk attacked the press at will, at the same time running a string of publications of his own, others like Samphan forgot thir ideals of freedom of the press when they attained political power, and began censoring the press. Samphan was one of the leaders of the genocidal Khmer Rouge at the time  then the press was shut down, journalists killed, presses destroyed.”

– Harish C. Mehta, author of "Cambodia Silenced: the Press under six regimes, 1997



"Under the communist regime between 19981 to 1992, the state had no control over my paper, but the party controlled it. We had weekly meetings with party officials and got our directives from them. Sometimes we could criticise the state in the name of the party. If we criticised the state, the state could not directly pressurise us, and had to go through the party. Thus, the party could ask me to do certain things". 

- Pen Samitthy, September 5, 1995


“I cannot tell you how, or what, to report. I assure you the government has no intention of violating your rights. We have not enjoyed 200 years of democracy and the rule of law. We don’t yet have a neutral administration, or a judicial system, that goes well with the freedom of the people. We need, from time to time, to signal that too much freedom is not freedom but will lead to the destruction of freedom. From time to time, we need to warn [you] not to use bad language. There is the negative side, but there is also the positive side. We have had 23 years of war. We can’t solve all the problems in six months. The local press can criticize the government, especially during this period. We don’t have an opposition. We want it  criticize. We want our press to be respectable and do its part to rebuild the country. If we have the same level of development, the same quality of newspapers [as in the West], it will be alright.”

– Ieng Mouly, Minister of Information, 1994

“It was only in the early 1990s, after a peace accord was signed .., that dozens newspapers reappeared, for the first time for two decades. Their editors were confident of publishing without fear on account of the presence of the United Nations peacekeeping forces based in the country to organize the elections in May 1993, who guaranteed a liberal democracy would be installed and the media allowed to flourish under a press law that was conducive to their peaceful existence. … One reason for the mushrooming of newspapers in the 1960s, and again in the 1990s, was that it was easy for a small businessman to start a paper.”

– Harish C. Mehta, author of "Cambodia Silenced: the Press under six regimes, 1997.

“If you compare the press situation to that which prevailed under the previous regimes in Cambodia – don’t talk about Pol Pot – we have to say that the press is quite liberal. The press is very critical of both prime ministers. Now, more and more [critical of] Hun Sen than myself. But it is still quite critical and quite liberal vis-à-vis the leadership, compared to the situation under previous regimes. When we don’t have a clear political opposition – nowadays we don’t have any opposition except the Khmer Nation Party – we need to have a free press to play such an opposition role. This is my personal opinion. As regards the freedom of expression, the press has to be very professional. The press says that it has its own rights, but it has its own responsibilities too. Rights are not in tune with responsibilities. But, I must say that I am completely against any pressure on the press. Any threat, I think, is not good for the country. When  the judicial system is not completely just, and not completely free, it is very difficult to say that we have a really free press.”

– Prince Norodom Ranariddh, 1st Prime Minister, 1997

“To be fair, a new press law, enacted in mid-1995, was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, journalists were not obliged to reveal their sources in a court of law, a provision that was lacking in countries across Southeast Asia and most of Europe. The main worry in the wording of the press law was its deliberately vague Article 12 that suspend and fine newspapers that harmed “national security and political stability. Still, Cambodia had adopted a liberal-democratic constitution, a multi-party system and an open government which sat comfortably with an almost-free press.”

– Harish C. Mehta, 1997

“We have one of the freest presses in the world. Few people realize how lucky we are.”

– Leng Sochea, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Information, 1997.

“Cambodian journalists from 1993-1995 were like birds freed for the first time. Flying into the dark, knocking into trees and wall, but over the past few years things have changed. They have been doing much better. They have quoted people for their stories … use facts and leave opinions aside. One big problem for them is that they are lazy to read what the others write and they do not use background to explain their readers.”

– Late Reach Sambath, Cambodian journalist, 2006

                                             "There is no code of ethics, no professional standards. It is a big problem for those of us who care about our profession."
– Kher Muntit, Cambodian Journalist, 2000

                            "Cambodian newspapers may not be particularly responsible, but they are largely free to a degree rarely seen in the Southeast Asia.”
– A. Lin Neumann, consultant on Asian issues to CPJ, 2002

        “Cambodian press today may not be particularly responsible, but it is lively and largely fearless. Given the recent history of Cambodia, this is an achievement in itself.”
– A. Lin Neumann, consultant on Asian issues to CPJ, 2002

“Cambodia’s press is still one of the freest in the region, but also one of the most unregulated. Professionalism, political affiliation, nonneutrality, and the government’s use of threats and intimidation to influence the media – are all of great concern both among the media and outside watchers. It seems that the media in Cambodia do not regard themselves as merely a platform for political debate but as political players themselves.”

– Puy Kear, Cambodian Journalist, 2005

“In the past and still today, the lack of professionalism has led to many insulting headlines that have incurred the wrath of individuals. These headlines compare human beings to animals such as dogs, or use pejorative expressions such as ‘crook’ and ‘tools of the Vietnamese’ to describe the actions of politicians. In general, the written press gives prominence to small crimes, daily traffic accidents, street fights and domestic violence.”
– Puy Kear, Cambodian Journalist, 2005

“The road towards ethical professional journalism – that is by Western standards – remain blocked by low salaries, culture of political patronage and impunity, the government’s ambivalent relationship with the media, and low literacy rate, which to an extent makes journalists feel little concern for accountability in what they write.”
– Eric Loo, Senior Lecturer at School of Journalism, University of Whollongong, 2006

“Corruption is rife within Cambodian journalism, ranging from one-off payments of hundreds of dollars to the more common practice of paying reporters a few dollars to attend press conferences.”
– LICADHO, local human rights NGO, 2008

                      “Almost all Cambodia’s media is aligned to a political party, with the vast majority favoring the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).”
– LICADHO, local human rights NGO, 2008


"None of the major Khmer-language newspapers is considered politically-neutral. In fact, nearly all newspapers, big or small, are owned or backed by powerful politicians or businessmen and reflect their patrons’ political biases in their editorial content."

– LICADHO, local human rights NGO, 2009