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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer newspapers overseas just as wild and wacky

Khmer newspapers overseas just as wild and wacky

T HOUGH Khmer newspapers here are often seen as vulgar, vitriolic, abusive and

unprofessional, they are no worse than Khmer-language newspapers

overseas.

The Long Beach, California-based tabloid Sereypheap (Freedom),

shares common characteristics with its Cambodian siblings.

The paper's

name floats on the top of page one with a slogan "a collection of weekly news

about culture, truth, progress and advertisement." Underneath, a big headline

spreads over a cartoon of a Buddhist monk named Kong Chhean being kicked and

cursed "bastard, go to hell" by a man. The monk's face is dumped into a spot

described as "human waste", while the attacker's actions are blessed by the word

"freedom".

Not only the cartoons, but the entire journalistic style of

Khmer newspapers in the United States was beyond the belief of Reach Sambath, a

local reporter of Agence France Press (AFP) who recently returned from a

four-month training course at California State University-Fullerton.

"I

was very surprised and I laughed when I read Khmer newspapers [in the US]. I saw

the same thing I've seen in Cambodia," Sambath said in a Post interview.

He brought back not only new experiences but a set of US-based Khmer

newspapers he wanted to show to his friends here.

Sambath said Kong

Chhean, the monk in the cartoon, was a chief monk who is well-respected by

locals for his work preserving Khmer culture in Long Beach. He was being

criticized by Sereypheap for having a Mercedes-Benz, a mobile telephone and

allegedly having sex with young girls.

"They insult the monk, using the

word shit," Sambath said. Pointing to the cartoon, he added, "I think this is

even more terrible than Khmer newspapers here."

Another copy of

Sereypheap displayed a cartoon of Chea Sim dressed only in underwear. The monk

and other Cambodians were kneeling - and doing other unprintables - in greeting

the National Assembly chairman who paid a private visit to the US a few months

ago.

Sambath said "they think this is their freedom, the freedom of

press. But it is not true, it is a freedom to insult. It means that they live in

America, but they haven't learnt what Americans do to get their

freedom".

There are many journalism schools in the US and Sambath could

not understand why the Cambodian journalists did not learn to be professional.

At least 80 percent of the 56-page Sereypheap is filled with

advertisements which provide Cambodian expats with information where to buy

discounted goods and services. The paper is free. There is nothing to read

except editors' opinion and commentary.

"Their main objective is to get

as much advertisement in their pages as they can," said Sambath.

However,

he went on to say that Sereypeap is due for the chop after losing a law suit

brought against it by Kong Chhean.

Characteristically similar is Angkor

Borei (Angkor Country) newspaper. Also distributed free, every issue has a

regular spread of caricatures and wild - and grossly insulting - comments about

King Norodom Sihanouk and high-profile politicians such as Prince Norodom

Ranariddh, Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy. News filed by wire services from Cambodia is

printed on one or two inside pages.

The paper is edited by Soth Polin and

Ly Deap, Republicans known to have critical views about the Cambodian monarchy.

"I talked to Soth Polin and he said he wanted to tell Cambodia's young

generation the truth about the Royal family. But, another thing he said was that

he did not have a certain future and that he just wrote for money," said

Sambath.

Anti-royalist articles written by Soth Polin are often reprinted

in Republika, another tabloid-sized newspaper run by Cambodians living in

Sydney, Australia.

Sambath also asked Angkor Borei's Ly Deap, why he did

not write news. Deap said that he wanted to present his own opinion because

"many Cambodians [in America] do not have opinions".

Sambath said "I

think it is not the right way in journalism. My personal philosophy is that

journalists should tell the truth and let people judge for themselves in order

to reduce speculation".

In general, the newspapers are to an extent

hated in their community. Another reason for that, according to Sambath, was the

growing generation gap between old and young Cambodians. The young generation,

already adapted to American culture, were concerned about how to find their

future and identity, Sambath said.

"The young generation like eating

hamburgers, they watch American TV. They are worried about everything. But the

old generation like talking about politics in Cambodia everyday. Not all, but

many of them eat off welfare, have enough money and don't have to work," said

Sambath.

Sambath said he wanted to share his US experiences with

journalists in Cambodia, but warned he would be telling them not to follow the

example of the US-Khmer journalists.

"We could accept the old culture at

a time when Cambodia was not yet developed. But now, the world has changed and

Cambodia needs to be developed through technology," said

Sambath.

"[Journalists] should change their theme from commentary to

news. I don't mean I know everything. But sometimes it's not fair, especially

when you ask the readers if they want to read your opinion. They don't."

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