The government may require media outlets to apply for annual operating licenses as part of an effort to maintain better control over the press, a high-ranking government official said Monday.
Minister of Information Lu Laysreng said more regulation may be needed to ensure experienced journalists run newspapers. It also would make it harder for competing government factions to “fight with the pen” before they turn to guns, he said.
“I have observed that some of our writers not only lack experience, but even some have completely no experience,” he said. The proposed regulation may require those setting up publications to “come from the press,” or “to learn from the press,” he said.
The proposal would likely be unveiled within six months. But it already has some support in the National Assembly.
“I strongly support such a proposal because we shouldn’t let the press be on a high horse,” said Un Ning, a member of the parliament who is vice-chairman of the Commission on Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and News Media.
Under current law, newspapers are required to seek only a one-time authorization to open.
Lu Laysreng made his comments at a forum on the Southeast Asian Media sponsored by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. They followed a keynote presentation on the media in the region.
Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia all have similar licensing requirements, said Vijay Menon, secretary general of the Asian Media Information and Communication Center, and the day’s keynote speaker.
Thailand—noted for its relatively liberal press policies—issues long-term licenses to its media outlets that can run as long as five years, 10 years and sometimes even longer, an embassy official said.
On occasion licensing laws have been used by some Southeast Asian countries to repress free speech, Menon said.
In 1994, the Indonesian government used its power to revoke the licenses of three newspapers, accusing them of “sensationalizing” events. The closure led to an escalation in tension between media outlets and the government, he said.
He also expressed concern that media outlets can launch unfounded attacks on high-ranking officials with few legal repercussions. But further discussion would be needed to decide what laws if any to put into place to deal with libel issues, he added.
“My sense is that we had overnight freedom,” he said. “Sometimes when you go from dark to light so fast, you can’t see. I don’t want to change much. I just want to put everything right.”
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