Phnom Penh Post
Letters to the Editor
Friday, 26 August 1994
Referring to the report on "Political Killing raises fears" written by Ms Anugraha Palan dated May 20 - June 2, 1994, the Press Department of the Ministry for Information would like to clarify the following points:
The Royal Government of Cambodia which emerged from UN supervised elections, is a legal and legitimate one with neither armed forces nor police, nor militia men belonging to any political party. In fact, Ang Noun, a commune militia man and two other policemen, Srey Touch and Som Ra, were not involved in the killing of Mr. Ang Kuoy and his nephew, Yin Nhath, according to the report from Mr. Kun Kim Teng, the governor of Kampot province and a member of Funcinpec. Me. Ang Nuon who tried to intervene that incident, which took in a religious ceremony in Boch Ktnum village, was wounded, while the other two were killed by a group of 15 Khmer Rouge soldiers led by a leader known as "Nhanh" who based in Sen Han headquarter in Kampot province.
The distortion of the news of killings into political issue is not helpful in the current atmosphere.
The reporter should have, at least, conducted some basic inquiries with the police now comprising both people coming from former Funcinpec and CPP.
It is pity that the Phnom Penh Post could not have demonstrated greater professionalism.
Leng Sochea, press director, Information Ministry.
Anugraha Palan replies: The report was based on independent investigations by three different human rights organizations, all of which gave the version of events as reported in the Post.
In the 15-28th July issue of the Phnom Penh Post the second anniversary of the paper, the Editor-in chief, Michael Hayes assessed the Post as having an exemplary regard as a 'responsible' paper taking great pains to provide accurate accounting of events. Yet this issue was the same that reported extensively on the alleged coup attempt of the 2nd of July with a definite and disturbing bias.
Over five pages of reporting were devoted to Nate Thayer's interviews assessments and personal experiences in relation to the events of early July. While the alleged coup attempt does raise serious unanswered questions, and Chakrapong and Sin Song may have been used as scapegoats in more complex political maneuv-ring, one was left with the strong impression that the Post and particularly this reporter were not only cynical of government claims but effectively promoted the innocence of Chakrapong and Sin Song. The amount of space and prominence of position in the paper given over to the Chakrapong interview and the highly personalized story of the Prince's arrest in the Regent were unjustified and unbalanced.
We were offered a full page of statements from Chakrapong allowing him to present his case, argue with passion his innocence, discuss democracy and repeatedly criticize the government. This from someone with notoriously few democratic credentials and who seriously crippled the successful resolution of last year's elections by leading the seven province secessionist movement in June '93.
He has also, with Sin Song, been widely suspected of using violence and intimidation in the political process. According to some analysts this sessionist movement and other strong-arm tactics, played a vital role in forcing Funcinpec to accept a greater involvement in government of the defeated CPP. An uneasy alliance which now characterizes the political factionalism in government.
Thayer's question (p age 2 interview); "So you think that this government has shown that it is incapable of dealing with the problems and needs be changed" is entirely 'leading' and performs the dual purpose of illustrating the reporters own bias while offering Chakrapong another platform from which to launch further criticism of the current government.
In a revealing article; again by Thayer but short and printed on Page 8, King Sihanouk makes it clear that the real issue for Chakrapong is one of personal power not democracy. Surely for an issue of this importance the Post relied far too much on the writings and personal experiences of one reporter. Thayer seems to have a disproportional monopoly in the Post on high-profile issues such as these.
Many of us are deeply concerned about human rights and justice issues in Cambodia. Journalists and the Post have become increasingly concerned about press freedoms and I feel they have used the alleged coup attempt to vent frustrations. We must step back and remember the recent history of this country and the conditions from which Cambodia is trying to emerge. Democratic elections took place against high odds and huge numbers of Cambodians voted. Democracy will come slowly - any study of the development of democracies in 'western countries' as well as emergent democracies in Africa etc will illustrate the huge difficulties. Governments must be rigorously checked and controlled but also given time and support. Concerning the alleged coup attempt I felt the Post neither covered the affair 'responsibly' nor did it perform good journalism.
Chris Horwood, project director MAG. This letter was submitted in a personal capacity.
Nate Thayer replies: Horwood accuses the Post of "a definite and disturbing bias" in reporting. However, he fails to provide one piece of evidence to substantiate his contention.
He says we "effectively promoted the innocence of Chak-rapong and Sin Song" and added the space given to Chakrapong was "unjustified and unbalanced".
His only citation to prove these allegations was another article by me in the same issue which he said was "revealing" in proving his point because it "makes it clear that the real issue for Chakrapong is one of personal power not democracy."
Let me see if I have it right: his only "proof" of biased reporting by me is to cite an article in the same issue, written by me, that quotes people taking a contrary view to other articles in the same issue written by me.
The nut of his argument appears to be his objection, in his words, to the Post "allowing [Chakrapong] to present his case" because Horwood doesn't agree with his politics.
It is not only good journalism, but our duty as an independent newspaper, to present views of those accused of trying to topple a government. Whether Horwood or the Post agrees with Chakrapong is irrelevant.
Horwood fails to mention that we gave an equal amount of space to Sar Kheng as Chakrapong, also in an unexpurgated interview format.
It seems Horwood believs the Post should exercise self-censorship against people prominent in the news whose views we disagree with. This would be biased and unethical.
I am grateful that he has chosen a profession other than journalism, so we are saved from having to think of what facts he decided to leave out because he didn't agree with the politics. I would hope that Horwood exercises more logic and less intellectual shortcuts in his chosen profession of demining than he has in this rather confusing and pompous attempt at political punditry.
Your newspaper is doing some great things. Keep up the good work!
- J. Ken Bingham, Professor of Law, Institute of Economics