World Press Freedom Day 2011

Sponsored by the UNESCO Office in Cambodian, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, a special event was organized, with with the Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith giving the keynote address. The event was organized in collaboration with the following organizations:

Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists
Cambodia Communication Institute
Cambodian Center for Independent Media
Club of Cambodian Journalists
Department of Media and Communication, Royal University of Phnom Penh
Press Council of Cambodia

The meeting was held under the general headline of Press Freedom and the Rights to Know in a New Media Landscape. Quite naturally, the role of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, was discussed, also in relation to their role during the recent deep political changes in some Arab countries.

I would like to add here, therefore, some information related to Egypt. In 1999, during a meeting of ICANN, I met Dr. Tarek Kamel, who later became involved in the Internet Society of Egypt. When I met him again in 2008, he was Minister of Communications and Information Technology of Egypt. After all connections to the Internet had been disconnected in Egypt on 27 January 2011, questions in the international media had also been raised about the role of Dr. Kamel. Later, it was clarified that the disruption of Internet services had not been done in response to any actions from the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, but others had order this action. Later, these persons were dismissed, as they were members of the old regime.

The overall program in Phnom Penh:

World Press Freedom Day 2011 Celebration

“Press Freedom and the Right to Know in a New Media Landscape”

Tuesday, 3 May 2011 at the Korean Cultural Center

  • 07:30 – 08:00: Registration and National Anthem
  • 08:00 – 08:10: Welcome Address : Ms. Anne Lemaistre, UNESCO Representative in Cambodia
  • 08:10 – 08:30: Keynote Speech: H.E. Mr. Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information

Theme 1: How Can We Expand Space for Press Freedom and Promote the Human Rights Through New and Traditional Media

  • 08:30 – 08:45: Mr. Pen Samitthy, President, Club of Cambodian Journalists
  • 08:45 – 09:00: Penal Code, Legal aspects of press freedom: Mr. Sok Som Oeun, Chairman of the Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee and Executive Director of the Cambodia Defenders Project
  • 09:00 – 09:20: Questions and Answers
  • 09:20 – 09:30: A video presentation by students from the Department of Media and Communication at the Royal University of Cambodia
  • 9:30 – 9:45: Coffee Break

Theme 2: New Media and Democracy: How the Internet Can Promote Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Cambodia and Around the World Today

  • 09:45 – 10:00: The Internet situation in Cambodia, Possibilities of censorship, Technology and Access: Mr. Norbert Klein, President, Internet Society – Cambodia Chapter
  • 10:00 – 10:15: Social Media and Journalism in Cambodia, Digital Divide: Ms. Laura Snook, Foreign Correspondents Club, Phnom Penh

Theme 3: Protection of Journalists: How We Can Create a Safe and Non-violent Environment for Cambodian Journalists

  • 10:50 – 11:10: Theater Performance on Freedom of Expression
  • 11:10 – 11:25: Code of Ethics in the Context of New Media: Mr. Sek Borisoth,
    Cambodian Journalists’ Council of Ethics
  • 11:25 – 11:40: Access to Information Law: Mr. Um Sarin, President of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists
  • 11:40 – 12:00: Questions and Answers
  • 12:00 – 12:10: Wrap up and Closing Remarks: James Heenan, Deputy Representative, Cambodia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Cambodia Daily, while reporting about the meeting on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, mentioned that the ranking of Cambodia had dropped on an international ranking of press freedom, done by the US-based watchdog organization Freedom House. On the other hand, the following was also reported:

“The right to access to information is the key to good governance,” said Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith during a speech given at the Korean Cultural Center.

In his speech, Mr Kanharith touched upon claims that the government had blocked access to the pro-opposition website KI-Media, which was blocked from a number of Internet Service Providers earlier this year, and again last week.

“We don’t have any intention to block any websites, any, even a website where they put an obscene photo of the King – we never block,” he said in an interview afterward.

“Shutting a communication system isn’t beneficial to the state,” he added. The government does not have a policy to block this website. Even I myself need to access and read this website too.”

The following is the text of my presentation:

The Internet Situation in Cambodia
Possibilities of Censorship, Technology and Access

Norbert Klein

First of all my thanks to the previous speakers, who have laid out the field where we are:

  • The UNESCO Representative in Cambodia – it is UNESCO that gave the overarching theme for this day in 2011: “21st Century Media: New Frontiers – to see into territories where we have never been before, but that is also what we see – New Barriers”
  • His Excellency the Minister of Information who has been concerned with the freedom of expression in the media in Cambodia since many years, and
  • Considering the Penal Code and Legal Aspects of Press Freedom, as seen from the experiences of the Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee and the Cambodia Defenders Project, that have identified critical limits.

The basics have been said. I understand that the question given to me is now how the Internet can be an instrument to promote democracy by using it for a frank expression and exchange of ideas – by looking at the practical realities where we live: including the possibilities of censorship, technology, and the access to the means of communication.

We are dealing with two very different fields: technology – and the law. And in both cases with the question how we ourselves relate to them.

First technology. Communication technology provides us tremendous possibilities to exchange information – and at the same time it provides the possibilities to restrict access to information. And especially also: it allows others to know when and what we communicate, and with whom.

In the early years, when e-mail became available, I used to say: “Don’t send anything by e-mail which you would not write on an open postcard – unless you use an encryption program.” This was long ago. Last week, the US based NGO Electronic Frontier Foundation – “Defending Freedom in the Digital Age” is their slogan – received new documents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation which provide details on the US government’s surveillance spyware; they got these documents on the basis of their legal efforts based on the US Freedom of Information Act.

Now nothing is completely secret, especially when something is on a network, and when it comes to governments which have the resources to capture and crack open almost any encrypted network traffic. But not only governments are collecting information. During the last two weeks there is a lot of Internet discussion going on related to the fact that certain mobile phones – the iPhone from Apple, and the phones using the Android software from Google – collect information about where the user of these phone is, and when. That such information is being collected and kept even for one year was not known publicly, and not to the users. If you use an iPhone, it is now possible to know, with the help of certain software, if you went to the beach at Sihanoukville, or to the Naga Casino.

There is almost no limit on what technology can do. How can this be controlled? Only by public awareness leading to legal regulations, where their implementation is publicly supervised.

Actually, there is a legal basis protecting the privacy of communication in Article 40 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia: “The rights to privacy of residence, and to the secrecy of correspondence by mail, telegram, fax, telex and telephone shall be guaranteed.” The Internet is not mentioned – the Constitution was written in 1993. Only legal experts will be able to say – maybe not without being influenced by the surrounding political climate – whether the secrecy of communication over the Internet is also covered, by implication.

Around 1999/2000 there was a case where Cambodian women were sexually exploited on a Website, accessible by credit card payment – and so discussions about a perceived need for Internet censorship started. Fortunately the authorities found a better way: the perpetrator, a US citizen, was expelled from the country. But censorship had become a subject to be discussed, and also put to rest, at that time.

I would like to read here from a historical document, from an e-mail received by Bill Herod (and later published by UNDP-APDIP etc. in Digital Review of Asia Pacific, select “Time series publication,” then “2003-2004”)

Subject: Internet access in Cambodia
Date: Friday, 4 June 1999

Friends,

I was pleased to receive the following message from H.E. Khieu Kanharith, Secretary of State, Ministry of Information.

Yours,
Bill

= = =

3 June 1999

Dear Sir,

I do not know where SCMP [South China Morning Post, Hong Kong] got this news (“Planned Net law ‘threat to democracy,” 31 May 1999), but I can assure you that I am the one who has been fighting and continues to fight for the freedom of Internet access and the free flow of information in general. Everyday I find in my e-mail all kinds of information including some mail insulting me.

This is a fact of life. When we never attempt to control the import of books and magazines into Cambodia why would we want to block the Internet? What I said about the terrorist sites was only to express my concern over the price to be paid.

Please be assured that I am very supportive of this form of communication and I will spare no effort in defending it. I hope you can help communicate this assurance to all of your subscribers and, if you have any problem concerning this issue, please feel free to contact me.

Your sincerely,
Khieu Kanharith

This is clear. Thanks are due for this statement.

But there are still problems of access – blocking – censoring. There had been problems recently. There are at present again problems. But I have to admit frankly that I am not able to understand some things going on – and obviously I am not the only one. I trust that higher level government officers act according to the law – and make it obvious that they act according to the law. But there are events where I cannot understand what is being done. So I asked openly and publicly.

In February and March 2011, there was confusing and contradicting information about Internet accessibility – some web sites were not accessible. But what was confusing is that the customers of some ISPs were affected, but those of other ISPs were not. And the explanations were as confusing as the situation: “We do not know what happens – We don’t block anything.” But also “Blocked as ordered by Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.” Some clarity surfaced when the Phnom Penh Post published information that the deputy director of the Directorate of Telecommunications Policy Regulation [normally in charge of such technical questions as frequency licensing etc.] of the Ministry for Post and Telecommunication, Mr. Sieng Sithy, had e-mailed a request to ten ISPs to block the access to a number of web sites. If staff of this department have overstepped their assigned roles, their superiors will have to deal with it. This seems to be the case, as the Minister of Post and Telecommunications maintained his position that the government has no policy to censor websites. The same position was upheld by the Minister of Information. (Reference: Technical Policy Ministry Staff Challenges Higher Authorities – 6.3.2011.)

By mid March 2011, really surprising information was published: The Minister of Post and Telecommunications said that the ministry had not investigated this matter and could not do so, “I did not order any official or Sieng Sithy to e-mail Internet companies. – I don’t know that Sieng Sithy e-mailed to any Internet company. It is an individual right.”

For an observer, this seems to say that staff of that ministry can use the name of the ministry to organize censorship. Who is bound to follow the law, and who is bound to supervise this? Who is in charge of what? (Reference: Anybody Permitted to Impose Internet Controls? – 18.3.2011.)

The Chief Executive Officer of one ISP, that did not block access, said: “We work on letters, not email. If the government orders, they send us a letter. We do business under the government and the government allows us the license… We must follow but we cannot follow just e-mail or phone calls.”

Now my access to some sites is again blocked on my Online Internet access for which I have a subscription. So I wrote to Online, after I had first inquired and was told: “We know there are problems, but we do not block!”

Since several days, we experience that several web sites are not accessible… I am informed that the same sites which we cannot access with the Online connection are available through other ISPs in Cambodia.

As this situation continues now already for several days and you are aware of it, it is surprising that you did not rectify this irregularity.

Would you please inform us about your response to us, your paying customers, who suffer from problems at your company, with interventions that do not affect other ISPs in the country. Will you offer a financial compensation for service not delivered for the period of time of this blocking? When will you reestablish to deliver the proper service for which we are paying?

Technology – and the law. Both do not have a life of their own. They develop, and they change in response to what the people request – “The Cambodian people are the masters of their own country” – says Article 51 of the Constitution.

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2 Comments

  1. Sam Roberts says:

    I’m sure you’re aware of this but using Metfone I am still unable to access any blogspot sites/blogs. It also appears that this has now been extended to sites that use the blogger service but which have a non-blogspot domain such as my own blog at http://www.ourvso.com.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for the info on Metfone. I did not know, but I appreciate to receive any further related information.

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