T HOUGH Khmer newspapers here are often seen as vulgar, vitriolic, abusive and
unprofessional, they are no worse than Khmer-language newspapers
The Long Beach, California-based tabloid Sereypheap (Freedom),
shares common characteristics with its Cambodian siblings.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Anti-royalist articles written by Soth Polin are often reprinted
in Republika, another tabloid-sized newspaper run by Cambodians living in
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 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
"[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."