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July 9, 2018, 11:32 a.m.
LINK: newnaratif.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   July 9, 2018

Multi-million-dollar tax bills “pulled out of thin air.” The pruning of an independent newspaper after being sold to party-friendly investors. A final headline declaring “Descent into Outright Dictatorship.”

With the closure of the Cambodia Daily in September and the sale of the English-language Phnom Penh Post in May, the country’s press freedom is more than at risk — it’s nearly extinct. Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodia at 142 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index in 2018 (10 places lower than it was in 2017), saying it “seems dangerously inclined to take on the same path as China.”

Now, Cambodia’s media industry is also facing further censorship by the government for fake news posted on websites and social media (with jail time and a USD $1,000 fine as punishment) and a registry maintained by the Cambodia information ministry, the Guardian’s Kate Lamb reported.

She also noted that government officials point to “fake news” as not being “good for a real democracy.” In the words of one ministry official: “We want good news for our people.” It’s also important to note the longtime prime minister is up for re-election later this month.

Other countries in the region have also introduced legal action against misinformation. Thailand can jail people for seven years for spreading false information, and Malaysia can do so for six years and a USD $123,000 fine. In Myanmar, Reuters journalists have been charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act for obtaining state documents. Related legislation in Singapore and the Philippines is also under consideration.

Last week, Andrew Nachemson wrote for the Southeast Asian journalism site New Natarif about his experience facing the dwindling press freedom as a correspondent in Cambodia. He’s now shifted from The Phnom Penh Post to freelance:

While freelancers continue to be a valuable source of information, particularly for international readers, [journalist Mech] Dara rightly points out that they’re less likely to reach average Cambodians on the ground than the Khmer radio stations or the Post’s Khmer version did. Other journalists and scholars might be reading my pieces in The Diplomat or the South China Morning Post, but disenfranchised Cambodians in the rural provinces are not.

“Independent journalists are still able to work, but not so much independent news outlets. It is more difficult than ever to work as such. But then as long as they continue to try to work professionally and independently there is hope,” [executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance Ed] Legaspi says.

Dara handed in his one month’s notice to the Post this week. He tries to keep his spirits up, but acknowledges that the situation is grim. “I hope for the best, maybe after the election the government will loosen their grip,” he says. “But I think it’s too late. They already shut down the independent media.”

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