Press Freedom Index 2009: Cambodia’s up 9 spots, which doesn’t mean it’s getting better

Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) has released its famed Press Freedom Index for 2009Cambodia has risen in the rankings by 9 spots, from 126 to 117, but the only explanation for this is that many other countries have sucked even more than the Kingdom, rather than Cambodia itself having an improved media environment. A mediocre student amongst dreadful ones still looks smart.

In fact, if you look at the point grade, a far less sexy but more accurate measure than rankings, with 0 being press freedom heaven and 115.50 being Eritrea, Cambodia got a 35.17 this year and 35.50 last — virtually the same grade. Last year, there was the murder of opposition journalist Khim Sambo (also reported as Kim Sambor and Khem Sambo) busting the numbers. That murder in broad daylight in the busy streets of Phnom Penh just before the elections last July is still unsolved, as are all 13 murders of journalists in the country since the 1990s. (Add to that unionists and other activists and the number climbs exponentially.) This year, it’s a slew of defamation suits and a worrisome new penal code that criminalizes undefined information-related offenses and includes in the potential sentences a lifetime ban on practicing journalism in the country.

I look forward to reading RSF’s detailed analysis of Cambodia. (Individual country analyses do usually come out one by one after the index is published). In the meantime, watch out for the meaning behind the stat: locals know full well media freedom isn’t improving one bit in Cambodia.