Elections 2023: Will Journalists Known as Professionals Be Up to the Task?

Members of media organization during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Jan, 14 2023. Photo: SPM

The National Election Committee has decided not to accredit “citizen journalists” to cover the July 2023 national elections. Only journalists who are part of media outlets duly registered with the authorities will be allowed access to polling stations to observe due process and the regularity of the elections.     

An ordinary citizen claiming to be journalist will therefore not be able to be in the field, that is, next to the ballot boxes on election day in order to post on his/her Facebook page or other social media and give his/her opinion on the regularity of the electoral process.

Should one view this as a restriction on freedom of information? A broad debate as long as there is confusion regarding the notion of citizen journalism. But the confusion will remain if journalists registered with the authorities don’t work in a professional manner, that is, without taking sides and without respecting the principle of equity that must prevail during election overage. 

In an electoral context, journalists are not merely observers. They are part of the process. Regardless of their political opinions—a journalist is a citizen like any other and has the right to have political preferences—they have a duty: That of putting facts before their own ideas and, let’s stress this again, to remain impartial. If they don’t apply those basic rules of their profession while covering elections, this will tarnish the credibility of the electoral process.  

The authorities have decided that citizens cannot proclaim themselves journalists. So be it. But being accredited by the authorities does not make a person a journalist. The political party that will come out the winner during the next elections will only have true legitimacy if the media cover the electoral process with objectivity. And let’s stress this a third time: with equity.

It is up to the professional journalists to show that, beyond their official accreditation, they truly are professionals. The credibility of the profession among the general public is at stake and, much more importantly, national cohesion.       


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