December 18, 2017 10:01 pm JST

Cambodia shuts down 330 print media outlets

PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) -- Cambodia on Monday shut down 330 supposedly "inactive" print media outlets, citing the need to prevent media passes issued to them from being misused.

In a post on his Facebook page on Monday, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said, "Today, we shut down 330 inactive media establishments; however, there remain 388 functioning newspapers, 207 magazines and 25 newsletters."

Phos Sovann, director general of information and broadcasting at the ministry, said the measures were meant to prevent such outlets from using their passes for different purposes.

Of those shut down, 179 were newspapers, 129 magazines and 22 newsletters.

Phos Sovann said none of the affected media companies have so far complained to the ministry. Some have already turned their print media businesses into online ones, he said.

The move comes amid concerns that the Prime Minister Hun Sun's government has been cracking down on independent media ahead of a general election scheduled to be held on July 29 next year.

For example, The Cambodia Daily, an independent, English-language newspaper that had operated in the country for more than 24 years, and many independent radio stations were forced to close earlier this year after the government accused them of tax and administrative violations.

Some nongovernment organizations deemed critical of the government have also been forced to close.

In November, the Supreme Court ordered the disbandment of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was the only opposition party represented in parliament.

In view of such developments, the European Union and the United States have both announced they are suspending funding for the election.

From a global perspective, Cambodia ranks 132 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, out of 180 countries, according to Reporters Without Borders, which cited an increase in "government hostility towards independent media" in 2016.

On Cambodia's performance so far this year, the advocacy group said the record clearly shows "that the law and the judicial system are being used to suppress any independent reporting and, above all, to intimidate the entire press."

"International organizations need to understand the gravity of what is happening in Phnom Penh. The denial of media freedom means the end of a 25-year democratic transition after the trauma of the Khmer Rouge genocide," it said in a recent statement.

The government has denied such accusations it has "backtracked" on democracy, declaring earlier this month that Cambodia remains "committed to pursuing multi-party democracy."

"With many political parties thriving in Cambodia, the democratic space and multi-party system still prevail," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It stressed, however, that "promotion of democracy and respect for human rights must be in parallel with the enforcement of the rule of law."

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