Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen alleged Friday that the main opposition party he had banned last year is spreading fake news, while it emerged that his government has exerted heavy-handed control of a purportedly independent outlet.
“Cambodia is facing the serious problem of fake news that has polluted the social environment,” he said in a statement delivered at the Club of Cambodian Journalists annual meeting.
The fake news was “provoked by the opposition politicians and opportunists, with the goal of toppling the legitimate government through colored revolutions, with the intent to drag the country into war with the support of foreign entities,” he said, repeating a familiar theme.
He also praised media outlets that wrote positive articles about his government.
“I strongly praise reporters and news organizations that clearly explained the truth, proving false the fake news against the government, so that domestic and international audiences understand. These articles prevent attempts to topple the government,” he wrote.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 33 years, launched a crackdown on independent media, NGOs and independent critics ahead of national elections in July of this year.
With the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party outlawed, his Cambodian People’s Party swept every parliamentary seat. RFA closed its nearly 20-year old bureau in the Cambodian capital in September 2017 and several key newspapers closed shop or were sold to government-friendly businessmen..
Hun Sen’s remarks came a day after a leaked audio recording of him went public and revealed that the prime minister has considerable influence over ostensibly private media organizations.
In the recording, Hun Sen is trying to resolve an internal conflict at CNC TV in which he wanted to remove from office Ouk Bora, general director of the news outlet.
“The staff don’t like you! You can’t even control the administrative work! Don’t be stubborn,” Hun Sen said to Ouk Bora in the recording, asking him to resign.
The recording continued with the prime minister saying, “I must pay attention. It is relevant to the government’s work. I watch CNC TV and my wife and I support all the staff!”
“Some of the CNC TV staff members receive money from me during special events,” Hun Sen said.
He added that even though Ouk Bora is the nephew of Deputy Prime Minister Mem Sam An, he would still like to see him removed from office.
“You say you are [her] nephew, well I’m not even afraid of the queen and the king’s father!” Hun Sen said.
He then threatened the owner of the station, mobile phone tycoon Kith Meng.
“If Meng doesn’t fire you, he will become my enemy. What will happen to his business?” Hun Sen said.
“Right now he has my support, but he can’t choose you over me!” he said.
RFA’s Khmer Service was unable to reach Ouk Bora for comment on Friday. Kith Meng refused to comment when contacted.
Analyst Kim Sok said the recording shows that Hun Sen acts as if he is above the law.
“It seems Hun Sen is the father of the court,” he said.
Director Nop Vy of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media said that government retaliation against critics is not a good option and would not cause a reduction in fake news, adding that the government should allow a free press to prevent fake news.
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Cambodia 132nd out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, and warned that the Southeast Asian nation is “liable to fall” in the 2018 index.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.