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US funds media relations training

New media training centre to help officials improve business practices and good governance

Pen Samithy (left) and Chhay Sophal at the launch of the communication training course offered by Cambodia News. Photo Supplied

In any job, communication skills such as letter or report writing are vital

More communication officers means continued improvement of the information flow in the country, says Meas KimSour, director of the Media Training Centre, a state-run facility that has provided communication training to state officials.

“Around 25 state officers from the provinces throughout the country, especially the remote ones, have received US embassy-funded course to be press officers,” said Meas KimSour.

“Besides training the Information Ministry officers from the provinces, the media training centres have also been successful in training the military and police to be the spokesperson of their department or workplace,” said Meas KimSour. “People can meet them and ask them,” said Meas KimSour.

Apart from the state training schools, some NGOs and private groups have also focused on training the press officers for government, defence and law enforcement agencies.

After a disappointing launch, the bilingual edition Cambodia News has also branded itself as a training centre, with a primary focus on the training of communication and media skills.

Having been a journalist for more than a decade, Chhay Sophal, the co-director of Cambodia News, realised the difficulties of accessing information from the private sector and state institutions. He initiated creating a training centre where the public can receive communication training.

“Some officers don’t really know about the role of press officers or journalists,” said Chhay Sophal. “They are reluctant to give public information.”
According to Chhay Sophal, Cambodia News has provided free courses to more than 90 students from different institutions such as the National Assembly, government ministries and NGOs.

“We sometimes provide free courses to government officers or other business groups in trade and industry,” said Chhay Sophal. He also said that the courses were designed to help the trainees to understand how communication operates in a business setting and to instill media-savvy skills such as producing press kits.

“Everyone has to be acquainted with some aspect of communication, not necessarily in detail,” Chhay Sophal stated. “In any profession, communication skills are essential. Every job involves dealing with forms of communication writing, like letters or reports.”

Chhay Sophal suggests that every state department should have designated press officers charged with organising events such as press conferences and reducing the workloads of top officials by responding to press enquiries. “Sometimes the ministers have a lot of tasks to do besides answering the questions of journalists,” said Chhay Sophal.

Experienced in training journalists and press officers, Chhay Sophal founded the Public Relations Committee in the National League of Communes and Sangkats of Cambodia.

With funding from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Chhay Sophal aims to publish by the end of this month a 120-page book on his experiences in advocacy communication and dealing with crisis communication.

“This book will be useful for press officers, as it has many guidelines on how to write press releases or bulletins,” said Chhay Sophal.

Last year, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, through the Asia Urb project, also conducted two pilot projects within newly urbanised areas in Battambang and Siem Reap. In the projects, the foundation trained two spokesmen for the city halls of both cities to be able to respond to journalists and media.

“There are no qualified or well-trained public relations officers,” said Ruth Gruber, former director of the Asia Urb project in Cambodia, “Those public officers do not have the confidence or judgement to release public information to journalists.”

“We need training for more suitable press officers but must also improve the counselling and administration of the institutions to ensure good governance and transparency,” said Gruber.



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