Two journalists from separate media outlets said they were questioned by the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on Monday over an accusation that they had defamed a soldier in their reporting of a land dispute in Poipet City.
Pech Sovannara, who heads the Association for the Protection of Border Journalists, which publishes its articles online, and Pho Bunthan, who works for Hang Meas television, said that deputy court prosecutor Keo Sokunthea had summoned them for questioning over a complaint that was filed January 3.
The complaint, submitted by Hang Mao, who is a businessman as well as a soldier in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), relates to two separate December 5 reports by the journalists, who interviewed villagers involved in a dispute with Mr. Mao.
Mr. Sovannara, whose report featured villagers suggesting Mr. Mao was involved in an unusually large number of disputes and would likely become involved in more, told to the court his report was not defamatory.
“My reporting was done very professionally by interviewing all sources, including Mr. Mao,” Mr. Sovannara said.
Neither Ms. Sokunthea or her clerk could be reached Monday. Mr. Mao, however, confirmed he had lodged the defamation suit against the pair.
“They defamed me [by saying] I had grabbed the land of villagers and destroyed six houses involved in the land dispute,” Mr. Mao said. *********** “They didn’t interview me, and most significantly, they sometimes reported that I’m a brigadier-general from RCAF’s Brigade 70 who used his military power to grab the land from the villagers.”
“The purpose of my complaint is to ask for the two journalists to rebroadcast and reprint that I am not using military power to collude with the authorities and the courts to grab people’s land,” explained Mr. Mao, who said he was only a regular soldier in Brigade 70.
The two journalists both said they are now considering countersuing Mr. Mao for defamation for having raised the defamation complaint.
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said Mr. Mao should simply have asked the journalists for a correction.
“If someone is unhappy with reporting, they should ask the newspaper or the website to run a correction, rather than using the courts to put pressure on journalists,” Mr. Chankea said.
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