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Trump inspires Cambodian official to threaten U.S.-backed media

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- A Cambodian government official says U.S. President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media are an inspiration to his own country to observe limits on freedom of expression.

Cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan warned media companies, including specifically two radio outlets funded by the U.S. government, that Cambodian authorities might have to act against them if their reporting threatens the country’s stability.

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All major media outlets inside Cambodia are already supportive of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for three decades. One of Hun Sen’s daughters owns a popular television network.

Phay Siphan posted comments over the weekend on his Facebook page saying that Mr. Trump had sent a clear message that the reports of some professional journalists did not reflect reality. He said Mr. Trump meant that “freedom of expression must respect the law and the authority of the state, including the state’s responsibility for the interests of the people keeping the country at peace.”

Phay Siphan warned three popular radio stations -- the local Voice of Democracy and the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America -- along with unspecified other media that they should “reconsider their use of air time and publishing” or risk having the government take action in response to their alleged exaggerations, incitements and threats to stability and peace. 

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The mandate of the U.S.-supported stations is to promote democracy and the free flow of information.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, an independent group funded by Western donor countries, noted that the journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodian 120 out of 180 countries for press freedom, underlining that it “is already not an easy place to work as a journalist.”

“Those who speak truth to power are regularly threatened or targeted, and this situation appears to be deteriorating. Trump’s disdain for the media is likely to be noted with interest by autocrats across the world, and potentially felt by many journalists who report on sensitive issues. For democracy in Cambodia to have any substance, it is vital that the freedom of the press is respected,” she said.

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