Cambodia’s Ministry of Information is drafting a law that will extend the current print media regulations to other forms of media, including the internet. According to unofficial surveys, there are more than 70,000 regular Internet users in Cambodia today.
The new legislation will broaden the mandate of the Ministry as a response to the expansion of media networks in Cambodia. There are now 25 radio channels and 7 television channels broadcasting in Phnom Penh. But the government clarifies news websites will not be affected by the law. The Mirror reports:
The Ministry of Information said that electronic news (such as newspapers) will not be affected by this new law, because the major intention of this law is to control the publishing of audio-visual data, of games, and of entertainment programs and advertisements through the Internet, to ensure moral respect.
This law will therefore also relate to audio-visual publishing through the Internet and through mobile phones. Over the course of the years, mobile phones are being used in general and at present, users can listen to radio, watch television, and send voice and picture messages through mobile phones.
Worried about the impact of new technologies in society, the Ministry wants to ensure the respect of good morals.
“Though the responsibility of the Ministry of Information is now bigger, he said that the Ministry of Information does not have different intentions, besides protecting the respect of tradition and morality. He referred to an example that if we know that some Internet games have a bad impact on children, youth, or the Khmer society as a whole, the Ministry of Information will provide warnings about publishing licenses or revoke licenses by cooperating with relevant authorities.
The proposed legislation was drafted after the government condemned the website of Reahu.net for posting semi-naked pictures of Apsara, celestial beings in Cambodia.
Ka-set quotes an official who explains the role of the law in identifying agencies responsible for monitoring content in the internet:
The Secretary of State gave another example: “If a website displays the picture of a beautiful Cambodian actress and makes a montage with the body of a naked person, which Ministry is entitled to react to this, at the moment? The Ministry of Culture? Or the Interior? With the new law, the Ministry of Information will have prime responsibility over that as it will control the broadcasting of all audiovisual data”, the official observed.
Even foreigners who do not speak the correct local accent will be banned in the airwaves:
Some speak Khmer with a heavy foreign accent! It is something that worries us. With the new law, they will be required to be of Cambodian descent, able to read and express themselves in accordance with the rules of Khmer grammar. Foreign presenters who speak Khmer will not be authorized to exercise any longer, due to their incorrect and inaccurate pronunciation
Some bloggers and media groups have criticized the bill. Vuthasurf is worried that the law will be used as a tool to silence critics in the internet:
“If the new draft law is passed, the Cambodian bloggers who used to criticizing the government’s activities will be afraid of publishing the criticized articles. And the law will be used as tool to control and calm down on internet and Cambodian bloggers.”
The Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) notes that there have been “no major incidents involving the Internet which caused negative consequences to Cambodian society.” The group added:
“It seems the government is applying autocratic rules to control everything about communication. We worry that this law would be used as a tool to control and clamp down on bloggers who harshly criticize the government and we appeal for the government to reconsider its current plan.”
The government denies that it plans to regulate the internet. It insists it “only aims at audiovisual and print media.”