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Soy Sopheap on journalism

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Despite death threats and accusations of political bias, journalist Soy Sopheap continues to host Thursday Talk, one of the country's most popular news analysis TV shows.

Anchorman, publisher and political mediator, Soy Sopheap sits coolly behind his desk

in a small office inside the café across from the National Assembly known

as the "Tamarind Tree." He wears a button of the late Buddhist patriarch

Choun Nath and a cheery tie emblazoned with teddy bears, hearts and the plea "Be

mine." At 35, he's young to be a dean of the Cambodian press corps, but simply

having an office at Phnom Penh's most popular journalist hang out attests to his

stature. The Phnom Penh native, whose family was relocated to Pursat province under

the Khmer Rouge, has become increasingly popular for his early morning Cambodian

Television Network program Newsday, and his weekly political analysis Thursday Talk.

In December, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of newspaper Nagaravatta, he

launched Deum Ampil News. Last year Sopheap helped broker the release of five imprisoned

civil society leaders and the return from exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

His rise to fame hasn't come easily: he's been accused of political bias, received

death threats and suffered the tragic loss of his wife four years ago. "I am

just a man who brings what leaders say to the people," Sopheap told the Post.

He spoke to Charles McDermid on March 29 about politics, pressure and freedom

of the press.

Are you aligned with any political party?

Because I am very close with the leaders of the country people have said I am pro-Hun

Sen; I am pro-Prince Ranariddh; I am pro-Sam Rainsy. Actually, I belong to no party.

I am Soy Sopheap, independent. Over time, the leaders have realized I have no political

intentions. The leaders of the country trust me and allow me to ask them questions.

This lets me dare to do my job.

Does freedom of the press exist in Cambodia?

Compared to other countries, the situation in Cambodia is better. If not, we wouldn't

be talking right now. Some people outside Cambodia have observed that there is not

enough media freedom, but the level of freedom has really developed. I myself interview

all political parties on TV and I am free to speak in my analysis.

You began your career in 1994, who were your mentors?

In my life I have been influenced by three well known journalists: Sam "Mayarith"

Sothana from Radio Free Asia, Reach Sambath, press officer at the Khmer Rouge Trials

and Ker Munthit of the Associated Press. I learned about political history from journalist

Khieu Kola. In broadcasting, I've studied two people. One is Kem Kunroath, director-general

of TVK. I've watched him and learned from him. The other is Thorn Chay, who was on

an old radio program called Malo Pi. I never met him - he's dead now - but I admired

a biography that was written of his life. He was a simple man who told important

stories. I learned from him to dare to ask any question of any one.

How did you respond to the recent death threat?

Someone dropped off a written letter to me with a death threat. I complained to authorities,

then I dropped my complaint. The note had a phone number on it, and when I called

the number it was a very respectable, high-ranking man. I think someone used his

number. We resolved the issue very quietly. It's very normal; you must always be

careful in journalism.

What was your role in the release of the five jailed civil society activists -

Kem Sokha, Yeng Virak, Mam Sonando, Rong Chhun and Pa Nguon Teang - and the return

of Royal advisor Say Bory in 2006?

I approached this situation from the point of view of Kem Sokha and Say Bory. The

objective for me was to fill the role of spokesman from them to Hun Sen. Before I

did this I first examined my feelings. What is important for me is that I am Khmer.

I know the heart of the Khmer people and their leaders. I understand the political

situation clearly. That's why I dared to do this and we had success.

Why did the parties involved come to you?

Because the country's leaders know me. Second, I work for TV and people look at me

to see that I talk about all points. I myself think politicians in the country should

be more tolerant. We have a country to protect. Khmer politicians should not look

at each other as enemies. We need competition in politics. I respect Sam Rainsy.

I love Prince Ranariddh. Why not find common ground for the Cambodian people? Why

does Cambodia, and Cambodian politicians, look outside the country for help when

we can solve the problem among us?

What are the biggest news stories in Cambodia now?
One, is land grabbing and the other is corruption. The solution can be one arrow

that kills two birds. If we attack land grabbing we will be battling corruption also.

I want to tell you: PM Hun Sen is worried about land grabbing. What I predict is

that Cambodia will not have a farmer's revolution. Hun Sen's formula on land grabbing

will solve the problem. My prediction is that in the upcoming year the problem will

be solved

What does the Cambodian public think about the Khmer Rouge trials?

The important things are rebirth and survival. People really support the trial. But

I also ask the international community: please think about the Cambodian people.

Don't let small things split apart the process. We completely support the trial,

but the rules must be about reconciliation and peace. Cambodia was a victim of an

ideology, without this we would not have had the killing and sadness. The Khmer Rouge

pushed the Khmer people further from Buddhism. Now, with Buddhism in mind, we can

be peaceful. When this returns to our country we can reach out to each other and

join hands.

What would you do if you had a great story and Hun Sen asked you to not run it?

Hun Sen has never asked me to do that. The issue would be decided by the whole television

station, not me. But this is not an issue.

What's Hun Sen like as a person?

He's a man who respects his promise. Among the current leaders I have met, when he

speaks he makes me the most comfortable. He is a realist and he can speak to all

kinds of people. He understands what the Cambodian people want. He knows the mind

of the people and he has had success as a leader. This is why at the moment, and

in the future, too, he deserves to preserve continuity.

What do you see for the future of Cambodia?

I believe my Kingdom has a great destiny.

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