Government Issues Final ‘Samdech’ Warning

The Ministry of Information on Thursday issued a final warning to media outlets that have failed to refer to Prime Minister Hun Sen and select officials as “Samdech,” while a ministry official said that failing to use the honorific could lead to the termination of licenses.

Reporters were first ordered to start using the title—which translates roughly as “The Greatest”—in December. In May, the ministry said news organizations had until July 1 to come into compliance.

Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech at his office building in Phnom Penh in May. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech at his office building in Phnom Penh in May. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

On Thursday, the ministry ratcheted up its rhetoric in a statement signed by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and titled “Final warning to the owners of television and radio stations and publishers of newspapers and all websites that have not fully respected the use of the Samdech title.”

“To maintain the identity and cultural traditions of the nation, the Ministry of Information always issues notices to educate reporters, those who work in the media sector and broadcasters in the Kingdom of Cambodia to use the power of their profession to respect the law and respect national traditions,” the statement said.

“However, some small media outlets and reporters still show aggression in practicing the opposite of what the ministry has told them to do, as well as providing commentary that is contrary to reality in order to create a poisonous social atmosphere, affecting the dignity of the leaders of the nation and cultural traditions,” it said.

“The Ministry of Information wishes to issue a final warning: If any outlets continue to violate the order above, the Ministry of Information will take action in accordance with the law.”

Ouk Kimseng, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, said the government could revoke the licenses of any media outlets that continued to ignore the order.

“Not renewing a license would be the same to closing it down,” Mr. Kimseng said, adding that the ministry had the right to revoke licenses at its discretion, but declining to explain the legal grounds for such action.

The Press Law includes an article about respecting Cambodian customs, but the provisions focus on vulgar language and sexual content, and penalizes offenders with a fine, not closure.

The country’s three English-language dailies, together with U.S.-funded radio broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, had yet to comply with the order as of Thursday.

However, the government’s order to use the rare honorific—which has been awarded to Mr. Hun Sen, Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Senate President Say Chhum, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol—has been heeded by some.

Voice of Democracy, a news website and radio broadcaster run by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), began to use the “Samdech” title on first reference to Mr. Hun Sen on Monday.

“Actually, we have been discussing it for some time since the order from the ministry, and we starting using the title first at the beginning,” said CCIM executive director Pa Nguon Teang.

“So we start with ‘Samdech’ and afterwards we say whatever,” he said. “When we consider starting with this word, it doesn’t affect…our content —it’s OK. We also don’t want to face a confrontation.”

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