David Puttnam, once a brilliant film-maker, drums up trade and backs Cambodia’s kleptocratic government, writes Asia Sentinel’s James Pringle
David Puttnam, the once-brilliant film-maker who is best known for producing the amazing movie of Khmer Rouge terror, “The Killing Fields” has stunned journalists, diplomats and others, by praising the current Khmer government and its leader Hun Sen, for “its commitment to ending corruption.”
The current member of Britain’s House of Lords, speaking in one of the world’s most egregious kleptocratic states, then lectured the media “as just another arm of the opposition.”
He called on journalists to “develop a more constructive role as the government works to develop Cambodia.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where I have received such an absolute answer from government on the issues of stopping and stamping out corruption,” Puttnam said of this state run by former Khmer Rouge luminaries that is infamous for indulging corruption, violent suppression of democracy and land seizures that benefit the Phnom Penh elite allied with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“I find the commitment and determination here to confine it [corruption] and root it out is very real,” he said. “Now, in five years’ time I might be found to be a complete fool, but I don’t think I will be; I really don’t think I will be.”
Puttnam, who was recently appointed as the British Prime Minister’s trade envoy for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, was speaking at the British Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia on Thursday after attending a showing of “The Killing Fields” in front of Cambodian students, diplomats and a few reporters.
He told the journalists that “the challenge for the media is that you have to decide what your role is: is it to inflame or inform?”
Prime Minister Hun Sen had cancelled a scheduled meeting with Puttnam, but it was the film-maker who was contrite. “I received a very, very, very profound apology from Mr. Hun Sen, and I don’t feel remotely offended or put out,” he said, leaving some in the audience to wonder how he came to be an apologist for the regime, which has now been in power for almost 30 years.
What Lord Puttnam doesn’t understand is that Hun Sen, who defected from the Khmer Rouge to join the Vietnamese side in 1977, abhors any publicity for the Khmer Rouge at all, fearing that it would lead ordinary Cambodians once again to demand to know why they are still being ruled by some of the old murderous crowd. It was only reluctantly that Hun Sen agreed to a war crimes tribunal to look at Khmer Rouge atrocities which continues to drag on.
Continuing his lecture of the media, Puttnam, who said he was born during the Blitz on London in WWII, added, “It really does come down to how responsible the media is prepared to be, or does the media just become another arm of the opposition?”
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