Phnom Penh (FN), Feb. 15 – In the wake of Cambodian government’s action to shut down the Voice of Democracy (VoD) radio for grave ethical breach that tarnished the royal government’s prestige while refusing to correct its mistakes according to the Press Law, several foreign embassies and foreign-funded NGOs have teamed in voicing their concerns over the revocation of the license for the Cambodian Center of Independent Media (CCIM), which managed the VoD and its related website. They said the government’s move has gravely affected the media freedom in Cambodia and even claimed that it is dealing a death blow to freddo of press in Cambodia. But one may recall the similar move taken by these embassies’ countries to revoke the licenses for Russian media RT and Sputnik, and to ban a Chinese social media platform from distributing its content within the territories of those countries.

Their rationale was that such an action was required “to defend press freedom, not attack on it” while those media entities had not committed any professional ethical mistakes. With political motives driven by the Russia’s war of invasion of Ukraine, the United States of America and its diehard ally, the European Union, have ganged up to punish Russia, including the latter’s media and press freedom that were anything but innocent.

Now, these embassies that came out with the statements are accusing Cambodia of muzzling press freedom while Cambodia is merely enforcing its law and the press code of ethics to strengthen professionalism, combat fake news, enhance fair and factual reporting consistent with the applicable laws, and to protect the rights and freedom of press just like they are protected in those countries. But no one should be surprised of such a double standard that is preached constantly by the Western world.

In fact, no one should wonder about anything. It is normal for the masters, the subordinates, and their partners to defend each other although VoD had committed a grave professional and ethical mistake by exaggerating the information to tarnish the honor and dignity of the royal government, and, without any  concern, to cause the division within the royal government and the Cambodian society. They need to stand by their sound-blasting tools such as VoD and CCIM under the name of strengthening human right, right to expression, freedom of press, democracy, and advocacy.

In December 2022, the CCIM and Cambodian Center of Human Rights signed a EUR 2.1 million (about USD2.5 million) in aid package for them to advance their advocacy activities. This does not include yet the financial assistance that countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and other development agencies have provided to support the media activities.

How could one claim VoD to be an independent media entity when its entire operational costs, including staff salaries, are financed by foreign assistance? How could one claim VoD to be independent when its contents and their distribution must comply with objectives of the funders, who dictated them to behave under the terms and conditions tied to the funds? Did the VoD’s reporters enjoy adequate rights to cover topics outside the scope set by their donors?

Obviously, they were denied full freedom to do their jobs and had to tow the line drawn by the donors. So, you call that aid provision to promote freedom, democracy, and right to expression? Even in the project implementation, restrictions were placed and full freedom was denied – so is this what an independent and freedom-promoting radio is supposed to be like?

Because they are not fully independent and free as they claimed to be, the top management of VoD and CCIM was not even able to respond to the enforcement of the Press Law, nor did they possess full freedom and independence to make any decision. Every move they made was constantly dictated by the foreign embassies in Cambodia.

This was evident when they didn’t even have the guts to utter the word “apology” for their abuse of others and for serious professional mistakes. All they could utter were the words “regret” and “forgive”, which showed their insincerity and refusal to acknowledge their mistakes. As such, here we have the so-called “only independent radio” in Cambodia!

Now let’s turn to the foreign-funded civil society organizations that came out irrationally in defense of VoD. They expressed their concerns in line with those of their donors’ and even dramatized the whole episode, saying that the shut down of VoD means the death of the press and press freedom in Cambodia. On 14 February, in the absence of VoD and other media channels under CCIM, press freedom, democratic space, and freedom to expression still remain sound and alive as they have been.

Those media entities that properly follow professional ethics and laws covering radio, television, magazine, websites, and social media network are operating as usual. Whether press freedom and democracy in Cambodia live or die, it won’t be because foreigners or a small bunch of foreign-funded media outlets, who are serving foreign political agenda, say so.

One needs to look at the reality and that is, Cambodia is a country in the region with greatly improved press freedom that is freely available and accessible to all citizens. Only those self-appointed stars of press freedom and fake democracy who claimed that the enforcement law against this fact-distorting and political-agenda serving media (VoD) constituted restrictions of freedom of press. Meanwhile, as they cried out loud over abuses here, in some countries, their president(s) even looked down on journalists, calling them “fake news manufacturers” and even suing them to the court.

The decisive action by the royal government and the Ministry of Information to revoke license for CCIM and VoD and their related websites for gravely breaching press ethics that tarnished the royal government’s prestige and for their refusal to correct their mistakes as required by the Press Law was nothing but an appropriate law application, which Cambodian citizens and ministries and institutions fully support.

Khieu Kanharith, minister of information, has stated several times already that such an action is enforced against any press entity that commits professional mistakes. Such a move is part of the efforts to strengthen press codes of ethics and to eradicate media outlets that engage in unethical conducts, distribute false, distorting, misleading, and exaggerating content, and that fail to comply with the Press Law while sporting the human rights and democracy jackets.

Press freedom in Cambodia will get much better, and the action against ethics-violating media constitutes a key lesson to be drawn for reinforcing the application of the press codes of ethics. It should never be interpreted as a clampdown on press freedom at all. In fact, it is a step to foster press freedom further. It is not an exercise of dictatorship over the media other than trying to safeguard press freedom from being abused by a small group of journalists with foreigners pulling the string from behind them.