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Can Cambodian TV news be trusted?

Dara Saoyuth and Sun Narin talk to TVs top newsmen to find out if we can believe what we sees on TV.

Lift did a survey of 100 Cambodian youth, ramdonly selected at the countries university campuses. Here are the results.
What Cambodian TV station do you watch the most?
CTN: 63
Bayon: 17
TVK: 8
SEATV: 6
TV9: 3
Apsara: 2
TV5: 1

How often do you watch TV news programs?

Every day: 46
At lease 1 time a week: 45
At least one time a month: 9

Which TV channel do you watch for Cambodian news? (You can choose multiple answers)

CTN: 68
Bayon: 45
SEATV: 30
TVK: 27
TV5: 9
Apsara: 3
TV9: 2

Do you think political stories on Cambodian TV news programmes are bias towards the Cambodian People’s Party (pro-government)?

Yes: 65
I don’t care: 20
No: 7
No answer: 8

Would you like to see news that is more critical?

Yes: 73
No: 12
I don’t care: 10
No answer: 5

* Survey conducted by Dara Saoyuth and Sun Narin

According to a census taken of Cambodia’s population in 2008, 58.41 percent of households own at least one television set. News programmes are what every station cannot do without. Cambodia’s television stations present a variety of both national and international news to their audiences and also produce some other programmes including live reports and news analysis.

Huot Kheangveng, the deputy general director of the Bayon station which is owned by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter, said his station tries to cater to its audience’s needs, adding that the audience likes news which impacts their lives and is a bridge between the government and the people.

Pen Samithy, the president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists and editor of the Raksmey Kampuchea newspaper, said that developing a variety of news for television was good for the people and the country as a whole since people can learn what’s happening around them. He said, however, there were not very many local television programmes and they were not updated.

Information Minister and Government Spokesman Khieu Kanharith said making shows for TV is a big expense, and added that just to get a good camera like the ones being used at TVK costs about $30,000 to $40,000.

He said that privately-owned television stations have to make money, so they are not able to have lots of people capturing the news from all over the country.

“Most of the news focuses on the government’s achievements and is positive,” said Pen Samithy. “I just want all the news that impacts the people.”

Lift conducted a survey of 100 university students in Phnom Penh and the results showed that 70 percent said the news is biased towards the government.

However, Huot Kheangveng said his television station carried both the positive and negative points of the government to let people know about its achievements and also to constructively criticise government.

“We have references, real sources and our reporters do it professionally. We disseminate the truth only,” he said.

Launched in March 2003, the Cambodian Television Network, or CTN, is the most popular station in Cambodia and is now broadcasting news for seven hours each day. Its programmes include the morning news, which has been running for the past year.

“Any bad news has already been reported by some radio stations and newspapers, so we don’t have to follow because it’s not good,” said Som Chhaya, CTN’s deputy director general and news editor, explaining that the market for news is very small and they cannot survive on news shows alone.

“As you can see, some newspapers are still printed in black and white and have not changed to colour printing like the others.”

Som Chhaya also said there are some obstacles he and his crews face in getting news. Getting information is sometimes difficult for him because some departments and ministries don’t have any spokesperson, so he has to try to contact other relevant sources who sometimes cannot be reached.

Now most television stations produce news programmes and analysis, which Som Chhaya compares with having a meal that is delicious after adding the seasoning, more meat and more vegetables, meaning that news analysis provides more detail for the audience to better understand a situation.

Soy Sopheap, a news analyst at Bayon TV, said he always recaps and analyses the important news of the week, but acknowledged that “it’s not correct all the time, but we say what is true and adhere to our profession as journalists”.

However, Khieu Kanharith stressed that news analysis is not news but opinion.

“They have the freedom to express their opinions,” he said, adding that some people are not very professional in their analysis, but the majority of them are.

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