We — 35 editors-in-chief (as listed in the attachment with the statement) from both print and broadcast media in Cambodia — met in the 5th Cambodian Editors’ Forum (CEF) in Phnom Penh on 27 December, 2008 to discuss and assess the situation of access to information which has been faced by journalists in the past years, and to find solutions. With the main topic of Access to Information and Challenges, our speakers raised many questions and points of view on the following sub-topics: – Access to Information and Foreign News Agencies in Cambodia- Access to information on the Preah Vihear border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand- Access to information in provinces throughout the country, and- Access to information at the central level (Phnom Penh capital, the government ministries, and other institutions) Then an intensive discussion took place on the issues raised by the speakers and gave their assessment on access to in formation in Cambodia. Notable problems which limit access to information After the discussion and evaluation, the 5th CEF noted that:
- About spokesperson or communication officer or media officer: Most of the ministries, parliament, senate, and other institutions including most of NGOs and private companies, do not have their professional spokespersons or communication officers or media officers to fulfill their jobs. This becomes a major obstacle to free flow of information for the public as guaranteed by the 1993 Constitution.
- About official documents: In general, official documents are important for news reporting in order to ensure accuracy. Not all of Official documents are classified Â as confidential; The government ministries and other institution shall make public their respective official documents not only to inform the public but for their own promotion However, most of official documents, even annual reports, have never been made public or given to the journalists.
- About schedules of events and meetings: some meetings should have been directly reported by the media. However, the journalists are asked to get out of the meeting room. Meanwhile, schedules of the ministers or heads of the ministries have been keep behind in the desk of the administration office. As a result, it seems that the head of those ministries has more secrecy than the Prime Minister’s or it seems that they does not do anything.
- About press releases: A small number of ministries have sent out their press releases on some important events. But it is regrettable that most of the ministries and institutions to write a press are unable to write a professional press release and some press releases have been sent out incredibly late.
- About regular regular press conferences or press meetings: In contradiction to the practices of other developing nations, most of the ministries and institutions have never conducted any press conference and had press meeting for the whole year though they have important and big issues which shall have been explained covered by the media. As a consequence, the public has not been well informed about the activities and works of those ministries and institutions.
- About website: Website is becoming one of the important news sources in the era of information technology. Most of the ministries and institutions have their own webpage. This is the first start which shall be encouraged. It is, however, regrettable that the websites of almost all of the ministries and institutions have never never posted any piece of new information. Therefore, the website fail to become a tool to provide information which is needed by the media.
CONCLUSION The above weakness and failures really cause challenges to access to information to meet challenges and the public services efficiency is in question. However, these challenges can be reduced at a time when we are waiting for a law on access to information by changing attitudes of the officials from the government and other institutions, and set up necessary working mechanisms in the ministries and other institutions. The Royal Government has made a lot of effort for the welfare of the people and for the national development but the above weakness and failures seems to swallow its achievements when they have not been shown to the public. At the same time, some socio-economic issues have been overlooked and have not been solved on time, leading to the consequences to all of us, both the government and the people, who are the losers. APPEALS While the law of the right to access to information has not yet been approved:
- CEF would like to urge all ministries and institutions to appoint and assign official media officers or communication officers or spokespersons who are professional and able to fulfill their work by providing documents, media releases, and schedules of events and activities, and able to to response to journalists’ queries.
- All ministries and institutions shall regularly organize their press conferences or press meetings with media people in order to provide information on the activities and works of their own ministries and institutions. Such task should be done at least once a month.
- For any urgent work, all ministries and institutions must issue their press releases on time for the public interests. The on-time publication can sometimes avoid danger and disaster.
- All ministries and institutions shall establish their own websites to provide information to the general public. For ministries and institutions that already have their websites, the information must be daily updated.
- CEF continue to follow up and assess the information mechanisms and the 6th CEF will be organized in 2009 in order to continuously strengthen the roles of the Cambodian media in the Cambodian society and in the international arena.
Made in Phnom Penh,
Club of Cambodian Journalists