With many of the country’s radio broadcasters, news websites and English-language newspapers ignoring a directive to refer to Prime Minister Hun Sen and top ruling party officials by their honorific “Samdech” despite a June deadline, the Information Ministry said it would get serious this week.
In May, media organizations were warned that they had until the end of June to begin referring to Mr. Hun Sen and a select few as “Samdech,” a royally bestowed honorific that translates roughly as “the greatest.”
Despite the warning—preceded by a similar directive in December—local media outlets including Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, who often find themselves in the government’s crosshairs, have ignored the order.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith warned again on Sunday that outlets shunning the order could have their licenses suspended.
“There will be a warning letter, and if the violation continue[s] we might suspend the license,” Mr. Kanharith explained in a Facebook message, his preferred mode of communication.
Despite Mr. Kanharith saying that warning letters would be distributed before action is taken, Ouk Kimseng, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, said it would imminently take measures against those ignoring the order.
“We already informed through a letter a few months ago. There will be no more informing, only taking measures,” he said, declining to elaborate on what those measures might entail.
He said the ministry’s department of information and broadcasting would meet this week to decide how to proceed.
“Of course, there are no specifics on what the ministry will do, but the ministry will review all media institutions that have asked permission from the government [to operate] and will review contracts and agreements together,” he said, adding that fines were another possibility.
High-ranking officials who also hold the honorific include Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Senate President Say Chhum, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol.
Mr. Kimseng insisted that use of honorifics when referring to the ruling elite was important in preserving Cambodian traditions and stemming the influence of foreign cultures in the country.
“We have seen children walk the line of foreigners. Sometimes they don’t say ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt,’ they say their name like in foreign countries, and this culture is spreading, making people forget about their culture,” he said.
Legal experts have said, however, that the ministry’s threat to shut down offending media outlets for not using certain titles has no legal foundation and would violate the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press.
narim@cambodiadaily.com, wright@cambodiadaily.com
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