The government and a local press club’s reaction to an attack on a state-media cameraman earlier this week stands in stark contrast to their response following what many believe was a government-orchestrated assault on a group of journalists in September.
The differing response highlights continued discrimination against independent and pro-opposition media, media analysts said yesterday.
National Television of Kampuchea (TVK) cameraman Seng Chan was accused by a monk of being a government lackey at the opposition’s Human Rights Day protest in Phnom Penh on Tuesday and was attacked by the crowd before being escorted to a police station by party security.
Following the event, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith lambasted the opposition on his Facebook page.
“Their security attacked a reporter like he was a dog or a cat so [they should] stop blaming us for not broadcasting their story,” he wrote.
State news agency AKP on Wednesday reported the incident, citing Kanharith and a statement from the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) that condemned the attack and called on the authorities to take legal action against the perpetrators.
On September 22, reporters from numerous foreign and local media outlets were attacked with slingshots, batons and electric prods by plainclothes thugs in face masks as police looked on while covering a peaceful land rights vigil at Wat Phnom.
But in the aftermath, the Ministry of Information, state media and the CCJ remained silent, despite the incident being condemned by global watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Pa Nguon Teang, head of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said the differing treatment of the incidents suggested government discrimination against independent or pro-opposition journalists.
“I think it [was] clear when the pro-government media and Khieu Kanharith didn’t say anything about the incident that happened at Wat Phnom, it [was] because they consider themselves as part of the government, and they know clearly that the incident was created by the government,” he said.
“But in this [recent] incident, the opposition party organised it, so they expressed something … to try to gain political benefit.” Nguon Teang added that the CCJ, though supposedly independent, were “careful” not to tread on the government’s toes.
Mouen Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said that as the attack at Wat Phnom “was politically motivated”, the government could not respond in the same way. “It’s sad, because I think as minister of information, [Kanharith] should have taken some action. He [should] respond strongly to any attacks against journalists.”
Kanharith yesterday defended his decision not to speak out about the Wat Phnom attack, though he did not explain why state media failed to report on the incident.
“The call was already made by different associations [following the incident]. For TVK, it is my duty to protect my staff,” he said in an email.
Chhay Sophal, a CCJ board member, referred the Post to a September 25 statement that called for political parties to avoid threatening journalists but did not specify any incidents or directly mention the Wat Phnom attack.
When asked why the CCJ released a detailed statement calling for investigation immediately after Monday’s incident in comparison, Sophal said the September statement was designed to address a number of incidents.
“[It involved] a group of journalists … but the day before yesterday, it was only TVK and that’s why we released another statement.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG