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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Like a lamppost

Like a lamppost

From Stephen Moore's essay, "Cambodia in the western press: Whose Reality?" (Phnom Penh Post, Feb 25-Mar 10, 2005), one could draw two possible conclusions: that the author has an axe to grind on The Economist's creed of democracy, rule of law, and free markets; or, that his analytical skill fails to do justice to his university's reputation, perhaps due to some personal political bias.

The essay sounds basically fascinating. However, some critics may find it most difficult to support the author's analyses and conclusions due to the following:

1. To jump from what the essay argues is biased reporting in The Economist to a bias in the whole western press is a giant leap forward, only gullible readers would think otherwise. It would indeed carry some credibility if the essay cared to explain how it could possibly infer whatever it discovers in The Economist to the western media. The magazine is merely a single publication, while the western media consists of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of publications and broadcasts. The linkage needs to be analyzed, not just conveniently implied.

2. Another inference also needs to be of statistical significance when the essay attempts to generalize whatever from the selected 18 articles out of 129 in The Economist for the whole magazine. The essay fails to explain how characteristics of the voice projections in the selected 18 articles would represent those in the whole 129. It describes why the 18 articles were picked and chosen for the study, but the methodology outcomes of the sample have not been tested for statistical validity and reliability, which are part and parcel of any defensible inference.

3. From a small set of voice projections it claims The Economist gave to the prime minister in the 18 articles, the essay complains that the prime minister's "voice is under-reported"; yet a few lines later, the essay claims with so little representation the prime minister "faithfully represents their (the Cambodian people's) cultural heritage and expectations." For an academic essay from a well-known university in Australia, such statistical inference from such a limited non-random sample is mind-boggling.

Perhaps the essay's real agenda is largely political, rather than anything else. It is disappointing to note an apparent contempt for the Cambodian people. Based on the 1998 census and a survey in 2000, the essay infers the whole population, most of who lived in rural areas and worked as subsistence farmers, does not have any clue about democracy and rule of law. Assuming of course that the 2000 survey outcomes were statistically significant, the essay totally discards any possibility that there may have been some change in Cambodia in the last five years.

It is, therefore, most regrettable to suggest that the essay has used the analyses and statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost - for support, rather than illumination.

Senator Ung Bun-Ang

Sam Rainsy Party, Phnom-Penh

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