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Cambodian Newspaper Project: 1993 - 1998: 1st RGC

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.

1993 – 1998: 1st Royal Government of Cambodia

Overview:

 

The Royal Government of Cambodia, a collision government of multi-party democratic system, was formed in September 1993 right before the departure of UNTAC.  This government was led by Co-Prime Ministers, first ever in the history of Cambodia and in the world. Prince Norodom Ranaridh was then First Prime Minister while Hun Sen was then Second. Even though the UNTAC penal code was still in place, the new constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia guarantees the freedom of expression, press and journalists. It was believed that this certainly played a role in mushrooming the Cambodian newspapers. In addition, Mehta (1997) pointed out that the cheapness and the convenience in starting a newspaper business also contributed to this flourishing. It was estimated that there were about 30 newspapers publishing in 1993, about 45 in the following year, about 90 in 1995 and by 1998 the number rose to about 200 media organization that registered with the Ministry of Information. Athough the Cambodian printing press was facing a number of critical issues such as the lack of qualified professional journalists, low quality paper, suppression, intimidation, threat, violence and killings, it was strongly believed that it played highly significant role in providing a check and balance to government in absence of opposition voice.

 

 

Cambodian journalists:

It was the beginning path of Cambodia development and the education was under reforming. However, there was no school of journalism established yet in the country. So, who ran those media and how? One media expert classified the Cambodian journalists into four different categories. The first category was those who got trained and served in the media prior to the Khmer Rouge regime. Most of these people were holding high level positions either as editors or publishing director of the papers. The second category included those who served during the PRK/SOC period and got trained in Vietnam, Soviet Unions and the Eastern Europe. The third category was those who had worked for the media of the resistant groups along the border while the last and was also the largest category were those who had no experience in the media at all. The late Reach Sambath compared Cambodian journalists in between 1993 and 1995 to birds that were freed the first time and were flying into the darkness, knocking into trees and wall. However, he pointed out that the improvement had been made. These journalists started to quote people and use facts for their stories by leaving their opinion aside. Nonetheless, he also suggested that laziness was their major issue. They were too lazy to read what was written by others and to provide background to explain their readers.

 

 

Quality of the press:

The lack of professional journalists certainly reflected on the poor quality of the Cambodian papers. It was noted that the Cambodian papers often lacked of research while facts and figures and pictures were not appropriately and ethically used. Also, the inappropriate or insulting words often appeared not only in the body of the articles but also in the headlines.  For instance, there were headlines read “Rannaridh is three times as stupid as Hun Sen two times a day” and “Don’t invest in Cambodia because Hun Sen is the biggest thief.” It is important to point out that many newspapers backed and financially supported by the political parties. There were also papers began by self-funded to boost for personal political career. These newspapers were mouthpiece of those political parties and provided bias information. For example, the opposition newspapers described the politicians of CPP ruling party as crooks and tools of Vietnamese while in turn those pro-CPP newspapers accused the opposition leaders of being stupid and corrupt.

 

 

Freedom of the press:

It is also necessary to point out that there were eight journalists killed between 1993 and 1998. Three of them were shot dead in 1994, another one shot dead in 1996 and four others in 1997. Besides physical violence and abuse, Cambodian journalists also faced serious court case. For instance, in April 1994, Mr Ngun Non, the editor-in-chief of the Morning News was arrested and jailed over an article accusing a provincial governor of corruption. And in July in that same year, he was arrested and jailed for another of his articles suggested several senior officials of the ruling party CPP involved in the coup attempt in 1993. There were also cases of legal actions taken by the Supreme Court over the defamation and disinformation lawsuit against two editors –in-chief of the opposition newspapers, in 1996. Each of them were sentenced to one year imprisonment by UNTAC penal code, but were luckily released by pardon from the King.

 

Some Major Events:

 

  • 11 June 1994:

Tou Chhum Mongkul, editor of Antarakum newspaper (Intervention News) was shot dead.

 

  • 6 September 1994:

Nun Chan, editor-in-chief of Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen in central Phnom Penh.

 

  • 8 December 1994:

Chan Dara, a reporter for the Khmer-language newspaper Koh Santepheap, was fatally shot while leaving a restaurant in Kompong Cham province.

 

  • 1995:

Press Law was passed despite strong concerns from the civil society and the international community over articles 12 and 13 of the law. It was also noted a pressure from the International donors to replace the socialist press law by the State of Cambodia in the 1980s.

 

  • 18 May 1996

Thun Bunly, a writer and former editor fo the opposition paper Udomkati Khmer, was fatally shot while riding a motorcycle in central Phnom Penh.

 

  • 30 March 1997:

Chet Duong Daravuth, a reporter for Neak Prayuth (the Fighter), was killed in a grenade attack outside the National Assembly while covering the rally by the opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

 

  • 5 May 1997:

Pech Em, a Journalist for TV station in Sihanoukville, was killed and a B40 rocket was fired into the station for airing controversial news.

 

  • 7 July 1997:

Michael Sokhon Sr, a Cambodian-Canadian journalist, was assassinated while photographing looting by soldiers in the public markets during the aftermath of a coup.

 

  • July 1997:

The factional fighting between FUNCIPEC and CPP took place. The opposition papers did not published for three months due to threats and intimidation while many opposition journalists went into hiding. Foreign journalists were also threatened and two of them were not allowed to enter the country after their critical articles of the government.

 

  • 14 October 1997:

Ou Sareoun, a report for Samleng Reah Khmer (the Voice of Khmer People) was dragged into street and shot dead while he was distributing newspaper to vendors in the market.

 

  • By 1998:

By the general election, there were 200 media organizations registered with the Ministry of Information, but about 20 newspapers and magazines were well-established

 

  • 8 June 1998:

Thong Uy Pang, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Koh Santepheap Daily, was shot and wounded at a temple near Phnom Penh. The paper believed that the powerful politician in the government was behind this attacked.