Broadcast media have long been known as an effective tool for getting messages across to the public. A TV advert (above) and radio messages (via the transistor) are sent into homes and work-places around Cambodia.
The directors of the Women's Media Center (WMC), Chea Sundaneth and Phoan Phoung
Bopha, dream of using the media to transform Cambod-ian society by teach-ing non-violence
and good health.
To combat society's problems of widespread violence, disease, poverty and illiteracy,
Sundaneth and Bopha have become the providers of public service broadcasting.
Their NGO, they say, has the best technical facilities for other organizations to
produce public service broadcasts. They also produce their own pieces, focused mainly
on promoting women's issues.
"We are concerned about every issue affecting women through the various types
of abuse as well as other related social topics," says Sundaneth. Among the
problems the country is facing, she explains, are HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, domestic
violence, poverty and poor health.
Since 1995, WMC has harnessed the power of radio, television and video, to produce
educational messages that cover almost every conceivable type of problem affecting
the country's people. The aim is to free their minds from violence.
The reach of the broadcast media is vital in a country with widespread illiteracy
among its 12 million citizens. Figures provided by WMC show that three quarters of
the population has access to TV, while 60 percent can access radio.
The productions for radio and video are funded by 30 donors, ranging from USAID and
the Asia Foundation, to the European Union and Unicef. Sundaneth says WMC's Radio
FM 102 broadcasts 15 hours per day, and is heard by an estimated 8 million people.
About two thirds of the programming is targeted at raising awareness of social issues;
the rest is more straightforward entertainment.
Awareness is raised via shows on Khmer history, culture, literature, women, law,
traditional music, home economics, agriculture, songs for the youth, poems and news.
"As women we are using the media to promote social change," says Sundaneth.
"We provide information to educate and advise our audience and ensure we can
maintain the public's interest in social issues."
And that education is targeted at all Cambodians, from government officials to farmers
The ownership structure of news distributors, including the six TV stations, is heavily
weighted towards the ruling party. That means programs with political content are
more likely to run into problems than those with a straightforward social angle.
However, says Bopha, cooperation between the WMC and the government remains good.
She says part of the reason is because they are women, and the government generally
"Our aim is to convey an accurate message," says Bopha. "Some of our
spot productions have been turned down because they criticize the lack of responsibility
of government officials, particularly when it comes to slow action in combating drugs
and sex trafficking."
"If our spot production is about advocacy on political topics relating to the
government, such as the elections or official corruption relating to human trafficking,
we do face strict monitoring," she says. "Sometimes [the TV stations] won't
let us broadcast."
It is not that the government prohibits such programming, she says. Rather the TV
stations are wary of offending their masters. Every so often WMC is forced to change
the language of some of its shows.
Aun Chan Syavouth, under-secretary of state for the Ministry of Information, estimates
that the main station, TVK, covers 85 percent of the Kingdom's 181,000 square kilometers.
He reckons around 10 million people watch TV.
A survey conducted two years ago by the National Institute of Management polled more
than 600 people in six provinces. It found that 100 percent of Phnom Penhois watch
TV. The main station, TVK, was seen by 99.97 percent of those surveyed; 89 percent
watch TV5, 84 percent TV3, 74 percent TV11, 81 percent TV9, and only 6 percent turn
on to TV27 or other channels.
"We are working to serve our society and provide a message to the people, educating
through their TV screens," says Syavouth.
Charges may be cheap by international standards, but the costs still add up for the
likes of WMC. Bopha says to buy spots on the main TV stations costs between $40-70
for between one and five minutes, depending on negotiations. Peak time broadcasts
cost more: up to $250 to send out a message between 7:30-9 p.m.
The majority of WMC's advocacy concerns TV broadcasting on women's rights, which
takes up just over half of the NGO's total funding of between $50-80,000 each year.
The MoI's Syavouth says that TVK, the main channel in Cambodia, does not charge for
NGO public service announcements. Bopha says the economic realities for the TV stations
mean that even TVK insists on payment. She says TVK officials told her they have
been ordered to generate monthly income of $10,000.
Syavouth says TVK donates from 20-30 percent of its program broadcasting to public
service announcements, with education spots the priority. In that category fall pieces
on traffic rules, health, Khmer culture, the importance of clean water, landmines,
HIV/AIDS, the environment, agriculture, and games.
"Each station has the same purpose: to provide more time for general education
slots on their TV programs," says Syavouth.
Its main rival, TV5, sets aside from 20-25 percent of its broadcast time for public
"Our broadcasting program follows the political decisions of the government,
which means we do not broadcast political issues that might negatively affect national
reconciliation," says Sin Sopath, chief of TV5's monitoring program. "Our
program is focused on general education on social issues."
Third placed TV3 reckons it sets aside around 60 percent of its time for promoting
"We don't focus solely on our business," says Fay Sam Ang, TV3's production
director. "We sacrifice that to help society and serve Khmer culture."
After seven years of effort and tens of thousands of dollars spent, just how much
effect have the hundreds of hours of public service broadcasting had on Cambodian
Extremely effective, says WMC's Bopha. Her optimism is borne out by research from
Indochina Research (Cambodia) Ltd, which WMC hired to measure its impact. It analyzed
the understanding people had about societal issues, not least those affecting women.
The report noted that WMC's productions had helped reshape behavior across Cambodian
society. In general, says Bopha, between two-thirds and 97 percent of respondents
told WMC that its TV shows kept them informed and caused debates on the issues within
Repeat showings of the same message are necessary to communicate the subject effectively:
Bopha says each spot needs to be shown 60 times or more on TV to ensure the majority
of viewers see it.
She says that a piece of as short as 5 minutes on radio or TV can make an impact
on the way people think and their behavior. She gives as an example domestic violence,
which is common. Husbands have now learned that beating their wife is against the
law; previously that was not widely known.
In the future WMC will focus more on health issues, the environment and human rights,
says Bopha. The fact that chemicals used on fruit and vegetables are dangerous, for
example, is not generally appreciated, and she feels this is an issue the health
institutions have ignored.
"Our messages provide people with more information," says Bopha, "and
there is no doubt that has led to changes in behavior."