Media warned to address Cambodia officials correctly

Government says media must refer to elite political figures as Samdech (lord), or face closure

Media warned to address Cambodia officials correctly

World Bulletin / News Desk

The Cambodian government has warned the country’s media organizations that they could be shut down or face other penalties if they do not use the proper honorific to refer to certain high-ranking government officials.

The honorific in question – “Samdech,” a prestigious, Sanskrit-derived courtesy title that translates roughly to “Lord” -- was considered archaic before being resurrected in the 1990s by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which asked the king to bestow it on a few elite political figures, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, his wife, Bun Rany, and party doyens Chea Sim and Heng Samrin.

 Earlier this year, Cambodia’s Ministry of Information set a July 1 deadline for all news organizations to begin using “samdech” when referring to the premier or another official bearing the royal title, threatening that licenses could be taken away or allowed to expire if it was not properly used.

 Ouk Kimseng, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Information, said on Monday that the government was “keeping track” of those who had not begun using the honorific by the July 1 deadline, and that the ministry’s committee on broadcast and print media would soon meet to discuss how to deal with offenders.

“The committee will sit for a meeting soon and then we will see what kind of action is to be taken against any organizations that do not respect this,” he said.

“I just want to say that this is a title given by the royal decree, by the king of this kingdom, and this means that Cambodia might have a tradition, a different way of expression, toward people in the high-ranking position,” he added, comparing “samdech” to the English-language titles of duke and duchess.

 On Monday, editors at the country’s three main English-language newspapers, which have thus far refused to use “samdech,” all declined to comment on whether they would continue to flout the order.

Another holdout is United States-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia, which has said that it has a general policy of using functional titles but not honorifics in its news coverage.

 Local Khmer-language media outlets, which are almost without exception owned by ruling party officials or those with close government ties, have used the titles for years, and often voluntarily refer to the officials by even longer and more elaborate honorifics

Hun Sen, for example, likes to be called Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, which translates roughly to “Illustrious Lord, Great Supreme Protector and Famed Warrior Hun Sen.”

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, the director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said there was nothing in the country’s Press Law that addressed courtesy titles, other than a vague provision to “respect the dignity and honor of a person or official.”

He expressed concern that forcing media organizations to call officials “Samdech” would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Cambodia.

 “To shut a newspaper down for not using such a title will have a domino effect on press freedom and freedom of expression as a whole,” he said.

“If not publishing the title can lead a newspaper to be shut down, it can also mean that any small mistake can lead journalists into big trouble.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Temmuz 2016, 14:56