AMID a crackdown against the media, civil society and political opposition, Cambodia’s government has announced it will roll out new measures to combat what it deems to be “fake news”.
According to the Khmer Times, the country’s Ministries of Interior, Telecommunications and Information on Wednesday announced a new joint-directive aimed at curbing the spread of what Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government considers fake news.
The government has vowed to crackdown against websites and social media profiles allegedly distributing false information. All websites operating in the Kingdom must register with the Ministry of Information or else face additional scrutiny.
“We will start to take measures on Thursday. We have been preparing for a long time, and we have provided ample time for relevant ministries to review,” Ministry of Information spokesperson Phos Sovann was quoted as saying.
Those found guilty of creating or distributing false information could face imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to US$1000, the Khmer Times reported.
Cambodia’s media has historically been relatively open and diverse, however in the lead-up to this month’s national elections, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has targeted independent media outlets.
Hun Sen’s regime shuttered the independent Cambodia Daily newspaper last September, the final headline for which declared the country’s ‘Descent Into Outright Dictatorship’. He has ruled the Southeast Asian nation for more than three decades.
The Cambodia Daily’s main independent competitor the Phnom Penh Post, meanwhile, was bought in May 2018 by the owner of a Malaysian public relations firm with links to Hun Sen, seeing an exodus of local and foreign journalists opposed to editorial self-censorship.
The Phnom Penh Post reported that on Monday, Hun Sen warned his government were employing technology with which they could hone in on any Facebook user in “only six minutes”.
“Fake news is not good for a real democracy, we want good news for our people,” added Sovan this week as the fake news provisions were introduced.
Cambodia joins its regional neighbour Malaysia in having a law against supposed fake news – the first one of its kind in the world. While introduced under the previous Prime Minister Najib Razak, the incumbent PM Mahathir Mohamad has pledged to overturn the law in the name of free speech.
Singapore has also considered introducing such legislation, however its government said earlier in June that it was in “no rush” to introduce anti-fake news laws.
Last month, a Cambodian man was arrested in Phnom Penh for supposedly sharing fake news about Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Bangkok Post reported.