Report on Roundtable 16 July, 2010

666Round-table Discussion “Privacy and Media Reporting”

Phnom Penh (July 16, 2010): In order for the local media outlets and practitioners to avoid complaints and lawsuits on privacy invasion, Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) on Friday invited four guest speakers – two from Phnom Penh Municipal Court, one from Konrad Adenauer Stifstung (KAS), and the other from media – to find ways on how to protect privacy of the people while upholding the press freedom.
Speaking in her session on the topic of “Laws on Privacy”, Ms Saing Sinath, a judge of Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Professor of the Royal University of Law and Economy, briefed the journalists about articles in the Cambodia’s constitution, interim penal code and new penal code, and international legal instruments which guarantee the privacy of the people. She said that journalists can be fined or put into jail if they are found guilty for invasion into any individual’s privacy. She said that privacy of the people include right to be alone, property right, correspondence of letter, health condition, etc.
Even though the press freedom is guaranteed by our constitution, the journalists, she added, can not enter someone’s property without permission. Otherwise, they can face legal actions, which can lead to fine or imprisonment or both. The journalists are also not allowed to write about private life of the people, including civil cases such as divorce, without the consent of the relevant parties. The identities of minors and the victims, in criminal cases, shall also be protected.

Sharing his experience in media coverage on privacy, Mr Pen Samitthy, Editor-in-Chief of Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper and CCJ President, said his newspaper had an regrettable experience. Long time ago, Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper published a story with a terrifying picture of a soldier who carried the head of a Khmer Rouge soldier who was beheaded. Because of the picture, the soldier later on went to Rasmei Kampuchea to complain on how the picture brought him trouble. Mr. Samitthy quoted the soldier as saying that because of the picture, he could not sleep and he live in fear for taken revenge. Mr. Samitthy, said that his newspaper acknowledged its mistake and agreed to pay compensation to the soldier who he did not identify. He said the case of Rasmei Kampuchea
proved a fact that the impact of the media report on private life. He recommended that the journalists shall not invade into private life of any individual even though the privacy of a public figure was less protected, due to their role a model.

Mr. Samitthy noted that currently they are many reports which intrude too much into privacy of the people. For instance, stories about a woman who has three husbands, or a divorce case of a husband and wife, which shall not be reported by the media as these kinds of stories, did not serve the public interest but harmed the reputation or dignity of the affected parties.

Rabea Brauer, KAS Representative in Cambodia, also shared with the participants the experience in “Privacy and the Media reporting” in Western countries, especially in Germany. She said privacy which are related to sex, health, and private conversation, shall not be intruded. She mentioned Princess Diana of England as an example for the invasion of privacy by the media. She said that in the case of Diana who was killed in a car accident which the media was blamed for, the media went too far into her private life. Since Dian’s case, the privacy and media reporting is under hot discussion. She asked whether the media freedom is under threat? Then, she said “No” from her personal point of view.
In his view on “The current media coverage and privacy”, Mr.Seng Neang, another Cambodian Judge, touched upon the theme “ Current media report and privacy”. He observed many irregularities in the media reports, including the mistakes in using legal terms, and invasion into the private life of the people. Thus, he suggested that the journalists shall turn to the legal expert for help, if they need clarification.
The discussion was followed by the Qs and As session in which many questions were raised for fear that by paying too much on privacy, the journalists will not be able to write anything.

However, there is an argument from the journalistic perspective that the public interest can override the privacy. As long as the stories are to serve the public interest and are not to harm anybody, the journalists shall write about even though the stories can go into the privacy of a public figure as his or her privacy is less protected.

Phnom Penh 20, July, 2010