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PSB forum in Phnom Penh

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Media practitioners, researchers and government officials convened last Wednesday for a forum exploring the introduction of public service broadcasting in the Kingdom.

Nina Loacker/Phnom Penh Post
Thepchai Yong (far left) and Im Sothearith (far right) at the Public Service Broadcasting forum at Phnom Penh’s Intercontinental Hotel.

The forum, titled “Prospects for the Establishment of Public Service Broadcasting in Cambodia” held at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Phnom Penh, was organised by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation.

The foundation’s country representative Denis Schrey said: “The primary mission of public broadcasting is that of public service, speaking to and engaging the citizenry.”

The forum was grounded on a 2008 study, Public Service Broadcasting Model for Developing Countries: The Case of Cambodia, by researcher Dr Im Sothearith.

His study was based on in-depth interviews and discussions with policymakers, media practitioners, civil society activists, representatives of donor organisations, and ordinary citizens from different regions.

“I am surprised to learn that even ordinary citizens in remote areas are aware that Cambodian broadcasters are under political control, and they thirst for impartial, unbiased news,” Dr Im Sothearith told the forum.

“I strongly recommend that a public broadcasting system be established in Cambodia so that it will meet the need of Cambodian people and help promote human rights, social justice, democracy, and encourage freedom of expression, and socio-economic development.”

Dr Im Sothearith noted that Cambodia has never had a politically and commercially independent radio service, and he used the floor to explain the approaches and challenges of creating PSB in Cambodia found in his study.

He said: “It is hard to set up a PSB system in Cambodia where politics is dominated by a single party oligarchy, the economy is weak and underdeveloped, civil society institutions have yet to take strong root, and there is no tradition of popular participation in decision making.

“It’s like a chicken and egg debate: a mature democracy is a prerequisite for establishing a PSB system, making this very difficult even though such a system is needed to build the conditions for democracy.”

Also participating in the forum was Thai Public Broadcasting System managing director Thepchai Yong. Thepchai contributed to the development of PBS in Thailand, an effort that took almost 10 years.

Thai PBS began broadcasting in January 2008 in the middle of Thailand’s worst political crises.

He said: “This is not something that comes overnight. There were initially more negative views than positive views of PBS in Thailand. We had to change this.”

He said that it is never too early to start talking about the introduction of such a system and added: “We need to get the debate going and expanded.”

Members from the Ministry of Information and FUNCINPEC party at the forum supported the initiative to establish PSB in Cambodia.

“This is a starting point,” Ministry of Information Under Secretary of State Him Soung said.

“We have challenges and obstacles to overcome. We must have a clear model that we need to follow.”

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