A painting by Cambodian artist Asasax.


Freedom of information has long been a concern in Cambodia. As early as the 1960s, then head of state Prince Sihanouk pressed journalists to write positively about his regime instead of the ailing economy linked to the deteriorating Vietnamese War (Chandler 2008: 245). At one point in 1967-68, all journalists were blocked from entering Cambodia (ibid). During the Democratic Kampuchea regime (1975-1979), the independent media was completely destroyed. News of any kind was completely prohibited, a rule enforced through summary execution. Only senior Khmer Rouge cadres could access media, only in the form of printed magazines.

After the Democratic Kampuchea regime collapsed in 1979, the People Republic of Kampuchea government limited the media to state sponsored journals (Ross 1987). However, most Cambodian people could not even read these journals as illiteracy was widespread. Radio and television stations were not created until 1983, and they were under the government’s direction and control. According to Ross (1987), the number of radio receivers in the country in 1983 was 200,000 for a population of about five million. By 1986, Television Kampuchea (TVK) still only broadcast two hours a day, four days a week, covering the Phnom Penh area only.

It was not until 1991 that there was an opening for media freedom in Cambodia. When the United Nations came to Cambodia, democracy was introduced and the number of newspapers grew. Since then, both English and Khmer newspapers have been widely available at newsstands. While freedom of expression has improved, it remains problematic.

Today, the Cambodian media is widely perceived as heavily partisan and subject to extensive self-censorship. While there is some criticism and debate, it can hardly be considered informed dialogue. Furthermore, some journalists have been subject to politically motivated prosecution while others appear to have been murdered. The resulting media environment is weak and fails to generate meaningful public education, supporting democracy and the rule of law. What is lacking most of all is a balanced, honest and non-partisan voice for the truth. Our Media Center is not afraid of providing a critical voice and is wholly committed to reporting the truth, regardless of which side of the political spectrum on which it falls.

Som Bunthorn