‘Fake news threatens access to info’

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Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Tuesday said the spreading of fake news by exaggerating, inciting, and cursing each other on social media has become a negative driving force which distracts citizens from accessing information. Heng Chivoan

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Tuesday said the spreading of fake news is a challenge to the rights of citizens to access information. Therefore, he urged all media outlets to combat fake news by only disseminating true news.

Civil society organisations requested to accelerate the approval of the law on rights to access information.

Kanharith said this on the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) on Tuesday.

The global theme for IDUAI this year is Access to Information – Leaving No One Behind!, which is aimed at strengthening the understanding of the right to access the information for good governance in a transparent and accountable manner.

The IDUAI, which was celebrated in Sofitel Phnom Penh Hotel, had nearly 200 participants which comprise of governmental officers, both national and international civil society organisation representatives, as well as relevant media outlets.

The spreading of fake news by exaggerating, inciting, and cursing each other on social media has become a negative driving force which distracts citizens from accessing information, the minister said.

Recently, the government made a decision to form the inter-ministry committee in order to amend of the policy of economic managing on digital, so that the rights to access the information will be implemented effectively.

“If we are not careful enough, fake news can cause social disorder and affect national development. For example, if a media outlet accuses a bank saying that it will go bankrupt or close, but in fact, that bank is still working stably.

“Therefore, the owner of the media outlet who has work ethics should reveal the truth to the bank’s clients as soon as possible. By doing this, fake news can be tackled,” Kanharith said.

He also urged relevant officers to reveal the truth related to the fake news to avoid the occurrence of social disorder. Beside this, the Ministry of Interior will be enforcing the law to prevent from the occurrence of public disorder.

Club of Cambodian Journalists president Pen Bona said he supported the combat against fake news. He said that fake news is a negative factor to prevent the citizens from accessing information. Also, he urged to have the amendment of law on rights to access the information examined as soon as possible.

“I have been a journalist for 20 years. Also, I have encountered a lot of challenges in collecting information or asking for information from relevant institutions.

“However, collecting information now seems to be much easier. As of now, we are preparing to create a law on the right to access information. I think this law is crucial so it should be drafted as soon as possible,” said Bona.

Camilla Ottosson, First Secretary in charge of the department of democracy, human rights, and job market of the Sweden Embassy in Cambodia said the celebration of IDUAI is significant for Cambodia.

Now, the Ministry of Information is cooperating with civil society organisations in creating laws on the right to access information as well as to fight against fake news.

“The approval of the amendment on law to right to access information is now being noticed that it is the new universal trend in this last decade,” said Ottosson.

Director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute Lam Socheat said Cambodia does not have the rights to access public information which is protected by the law on rights to access the information.

Therefore, this poses issues for the legislative, executive and court power to freely publish important information to the public.

“The government and Cambodian Assembly Institution should rush to approve the bill of law on the right to access information based on international laws. This can solve some issues and can develop all sectors in a transparent manner,” said Socheat.

The bill has been three years in the making and comprises nine chapters and 38 articles. This bill will be sent to the Council of Ministers for further discussion.

Civil society organisations and relevant institutions have held talks to discuss amending the law. Despite conflicting views between the government and civil society organisations, they currently work together in the national interest.