CNN on Monday said it stands by its report on child sex trafficking in Cambodia that has set the Interior Ministry on an investigation of a local NGO quoted in the story, accusing it of tarnishing the country’s image.
At a news conference in Phnom Penh on Friday, the ministry claimed the U.S. network’s report “manipulates the truth” and said it would be investigating Agape International Mission (AIM), whose staff CNN cited and quoted.
The director of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia, Huy Vannak, issued a statement the day before accusing CNN of “fake news” for, in his opinion, suggesting the capital’s Svay Pak neighborhood was still a hotbed of child prostitution.
Mr. Vannak, head of news for Cambodian Television Network and its sister station Cambodian News Channel, also took issue with the story’s first headline for describing the girls at the center of the story as Cambodian, even though they speak Vietnamese as well as Khmer.
In a brief statement on Monday, CNN defended its reporting, noting that the story focused on the progress Cambodia has made combating child sex trafficking since first reporting on Svay Pak four years ago.
“The stories revisit our original investigation from 2013 and clearly highlight the progress that has been made since by the authorities in Cambodia,” according to the statement. “We stand by our reporting.”
A brief highlight accompanying the story describes Svay Pak as a “child trafficking hotspot.” In the story, however, AIM founder Don Brewster is quoted as saying that the neighborhood was the epicenter for child trafficking “at one point” and that incidents were now far less common. A short video accompanying the story makes the same point.
The headline of the story, “Life after trafficking: The Cambodian girls sold for sex by their mothers,” also had the word “Cambodian” later removed. CNN did not comment on the change.
After hearing CNN’s statement, Mr. Vannak, who is also a senior official at the Interior Ministry and a member of the ruling CPP, maintained that the story was misleading for repeating stories of abuse that date back years.
“The story [now] is completely different in Svay Pak. When you look at CNN, it looks so current,” he said. “When the war is over, it’s over. You cannot portray that it still exists.”
Officials at the ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, which announced the investigation into AIM, could not be reached on Monday.
Mr. Vannak said the investigation was ongoing but did not know how far it has progressed. He said it would likely include a review of AIM’s current work against its stated activities.
AIM officials, including Mr. Brewster, could not be reached and have not replied to requests for comment by email.
(Additional reporting by Chhorn Phearun)
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