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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A little something to keep the journos on side

A little something to keep the journos on side

CASH payments by Government officials to journalists from Khmer-language news media

of between 5,000 and 20,000 riel (US$1.30 to $5) have become the norm at press conferences

and other media events, according to officials and reporters alike.

The debate surrounding these payments ranges from accusations of outright bribery

of the press, to the need for journalists to supplement pitifully low salaries, to

the simple notion that a little extra cash will ensure that the hacks show up to

cover a story.

Then again, there is the stance that if you take money from someone you like and

support politically, what's all the fuss?

For Government-sponsored events, the way the system usually works is that when journalists

arrive for a press conference a list is circulated for people to check off that they

have shown up, according to a variety of sources. The list is then passed back to

a protocol officer and after the event cash is disbursed to one "media representative",

who doles out the money one by one.

Priority is generally given to state-run entities such as TVK, the National Radio

and newspapers that are considered "pro-Government" such as Rasmei Kampuchea,

though at Funcinpec events a different list of publications is considered for papers

deemed "pro-Funcinpec"

Newspapers considered "pro-Sam Rainsy Party" such as Samleng Yuvachon Khmer

appear to be left out in the cold - as are reporters from foreign-owned papers and

the wire services, perhaps because these journalists are deemed sufficiently well

paid that a $2 handout wouldn't have much effect.

"I, and my friends who work for the state-run TVK or the national radio, we

always receive about 5,000 to 10,000 riel from Government officials at all events,"

said Sath Sophal of the Government-owned Agence Khmer Press (AKP). "I don't

think it is corruption or bribery; it is a case of understanding each other about

difficult living conditions ... this is just a small bonus to pay for transportation

costs such as petrol or to buy food."

Sophal said many reporters at Government-owned press entities only received 50,000

riel a month (US$13) as regular salary.

The Ministry of Information, while well aware of the practice, doesn't see it as

a problem.

"The money given out to local journalists, I don't think it is bribery,"

said Minister Lu lay Sreng. "Some government officials have to help them with

transportation or food."

Others disagree on the ethics of making or accepting cash payments.

"I think there is a commitment by Government officials to try to buy the ideas

of journalists for the purpose [of supporting] their political activities and their

popularity, rather than helping to reduce problems with living conditions,"

said Chey Makara, a reporter at Chakraval who says his salary is 120,000 riel a month.

"If the readers know we receive money from Government officials, we will lose

[their] respect."

A reporter with the Voice of America, Khieu Kola, said, "If you consider yourself

a professional journalist and take bribes or are blackmailed by someone, it is very

embarrassing."

Kola also said, "I don't blame the patriot who gives money to journalists, but

I think that Government officials see our profession as a tool to be used for political

purposes."

Pen Samithi, the editor of Cambodia'ss most widely read Khmer-language newspaper,

Rasmei Kampuchea, sees the problem as basically a financial one.

"The big problem is that an individual editor or publisher doesn't have enough

financial support to his newspaper, so that politician A or B understands this situation

and they take the opportunity to support these papers," he said.

Whatever the merits of the debate, it is likely that the practice will continue,

especially as the Ministry of Information has the last word.

"I think 20,000 riel is not a lot of money to give to local Cambodian journalists,"

said Minister Lu Lay Sreng. "It is [a form of] human kindness, and it is not

against the law."

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