21 June 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
A national journalist organization and newspaper stall owners are protesting against the Phnom Penh Municipality’s plan to remove dozens of newsstands from the streets in the capital to make way for its new development plan.
The Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) has been quoted by the Phnom Penh Post in its latest issue as saying that any attempt to prohibit or curtail the distribution of news and information was a violation of Cambodia’s press law and the people’s basic freedom under a democracy. CCJ urged the Phnom Penh Municipality to stop their plan to evict the newsstands.
Another English-language daily, Cambodia Daily, in its17 June edition quoted Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh deputy governor, as saying the removal of newsstands was necessary to beautify the city and make it a “tourist city”. Their presence on the roadsides, he said, is “against the principle of development.”
The Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) reported in its 20 June issue that newspaper vendors were dismayed by the authorities’ allegation that their newsstands affected “the public order” and argued that it is incorrect for the government to get them off the streets since they pay proper taxes and other fees.
According to the Khmer-language daily, the treatment was discriminatory against newspaper sellers since other traders such as those who sell gasoline, furniture and fruits have not been notified to move their businesses from the roadsides.
The Municipality has said it would build “Khmer-style” newsstands somewhere else around Phnom Penh, but a newspaper seller believed that the government must have other motives. “The intention of the Municipality is to prevent people from debating on (issues critical of the government) through newspapers,” said the seller. “What is the use of having newspapers without the sellers?” she asked.
There are dozens of newspapers and magazines in Phnom Penh, but many are out of the reach of the average daily wager. It is thus common to see Cambodians, especially students and drivers of taxis, motorcycles and the local pedicabs, sit or stand around newsstands to read for free.
The Phnom Penh Municipality’s tourism development plan to remove newsstands from roadsides could affect people’s access to information. The Municipality had once moved those newsstands from the main roads to small inner streets where a motorcade of the Prime Minister or a foreign delegation would not pass. The sellers complained about the drop in their sales because people had difficulty finding them.