Lyla Restaurant, Phnom Penh
Wednesday, October 25, 2018
(as prepared for delivery)
- The institution of the press plays three important roles in the national life of a country. First, a free press has a responsibility to inform the public about local and national developments in an accurate and timely fashion – policy statements, investment plans, crime, public works, the actions of citizens and NGOs, and much more. These stories must present the facts, but they also have a responsibility to explain the context around these development, as well as additional viewpoints.
- Second, the press serves as the public’s independent watchdog, ensuring that governments, businesses and other organizations embrace accountability. Without a free press, citizens can’t learn about corruption. They can’t learn about the deals their government signs with foreign countries or companies to determine whether they are in the best interests of all Cambodians. They don’t know who is behind the purchases of land, or widespread illegal logging. They won’t know what their elected leaders say in Parliament, how they conduct themselves internationally, or whether their business interests raise conflicts of interests with their official duties.
- Third, the press has a responsibility to offer a wide range of viewpoints, and provide platforms for people to share their perspectives with the population. Citizens, Ambassadors, NGOs, government officials, and government news organizations all have a place on this spectrum. There is nothing wrong with advocating for a position or action, especially if done with civility and persuasive argumentation. Free access to information is crucial to empower citizens to take a stance on critical issues, enact change, and demand the best from their leaders.
- Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of democracy. For a society to be responsible and powerful, it must be informed. These words resonate powerfully here in Cambodia. Over the past year, the U.S. Embassy has watched the Cambodian government’s crackdown on the free press, which has eliminated many of the sources of independent information in the country. Journalists, who since the 1990s were able to report freely on corruption or write stories critical of the government, are no longer able to inform their citizens accurately about developments in their country.
- A country cannot develop if there is not transparency in its government’s action. The huge youth demographic cannot become innovative, critical thinkers if it is only fed a diet of propaganda. Citizens will lose their ability to combat the spread of false information. Deliberate misinformation – from politically biased messaging to outright lies told to undermine institutions – is an assault on truth, and we must fight back. I hope you will learn some strategies here today from a journalist with a lot of experience in this field, Maggie Farley. I look forward to hearing her thoughts, as well as those of Cambodian journalists as we contemplate the enormous threat deliberate misinformation poses to democracy.