‛Politically motivated’

[Sent to the Phnom Penh Post on 8 May 2015. Not published.]

I have no special information by which to judge the accuracy or otherwise of your May 6 front-page story “Freedom Park revisited”. But the article itself contains sufficient evidence that the Post’s account is slanted to support a particular political view.

“The case [regarding a violent protest in 2014] has been slammed as politically motivated”, the article declares.

Indeed. But “slammed” by whom? The Post doesn’t tell us, not a word: it’s been slammed by someone; isn’t that enough to make you condemn the authorities for bringing it?

Is the case really politically motivated? The Post wouldn’t get its hands dirty by dealing with anything like evidence for assertions.

If the case is politically motivated, what, if anything, does that tell us about the validity or otherwise of the charges against the defendants? This is a question that seems never to occur to journalists or editors at the Post. It’s as if anything “politically motivated” is necessarily some kind of scam.

Hey, Posties, have a look at the real world. There are lots of things, good and bad, that are politically motivated. Furthermore, lots of things happen where it isn’t clear what the motives of the actors are. This is why court cases normally go into things like who did what, not merely what anyone was thinking or hoping at the time or later, when they approached the court.

An illustrative example is the trial several years ago of Sam Rainsy on charges of illegally removing border posts placed by the Cambodian-Vietnamese commission that was marking the border. From memory, the Post and other English-language publications at the time called the charges “politically motivated”, as though that was sufficient to discredit them. But the facts were not in dispute: Sam Rainsy admitted that he had pulled up the posts, and nobody had claimed that it was legal for private individuals to alter borders unilaterally. The authorities could have avoided prosecuting Rainsy only if they had been politically motivated not to do so.

It is also telling that the current article repeats the ritual formula that the 2013 national election was “disputed”. In fact, the only real dispute about the outcome was born and died on the night of the election, when CNRP officials claimed that they had won 63 seats, 8 more than the eventual official result.

Although promising to do so within “two weeks”, the CNRP never put forward any details about how they thought they had been defrauded. If such claims had been specified, they could have been checked, which is presumably why the CNRP never spelled them out. It is hardly a real dispute to say, “We really won, but we won’t tell you how or why”. Yet the CNRP and careless journalists continue to repeat that the outcome was “disputed”. (If Post investigative journalists would like to look into the CNRP’s election-night claims and promises, they could begin with the August 1, 2013, issue of the Post.)

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