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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - On a mission to educate Cambodia

Post Khmer editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong.
Post Khmer editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong.

On a mission to educate Cambodia

Stepping into the office of Post Khmer editor-in-chief (EIC) Kay Kimsong, one would notice a framed picture of King Norodom Sihamoni on his coronation day, as well as portraits of ASEAN leaders, hanging on the walls.

“We are one family. They make me feel like I’m living with over 600 million people,” he said.

Kimsong started out as the chief of staff at The Post in 2008 before taking on the coveted EIC position in 2009. Prior to working at The Post, he spent a decade at The Cambodia Daily as a journalist.

When asked about the major changes that have taken place in Cambodia over the past 25 years, he singled out three specific years: 1993, 1998 and 2000.

In 1993, Cambodia held its first national elections, backed by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).

“It was the first election after the Khmer Rouge. At the same time, democracy, human rights and free press were born. The government allowed foreign-owned media in the country. The Phnom Penh Post was established in 1992, and consequently more foreign-owned media outlets entered,” Kimsong said.

“The next highlight would be peace and stability within 25 years. The war completely ended in 1998 when Hun Sen used the win-win policy and invited the Khmer Rouge to join the government. They had power, but this power was under the government. They had to change their mindset and policies, and receive orders from the government,” he said.

With a delighted glint in his eyes, Kimsong calls 2000 the year of revolution.

He said: “Development came in, as did tourists, money and investment. Since then, the yearly GDP growth has been about seven percent on average.”

According to Kimsong, the Kingdom has undergone remarkable change since the beginning of the 21st century.

“There are more roads, schools, restaurants, and people are getting a better education. Everyone is saying that Cambodia has entered a new era since 2000.”

For Kimsong, although peace and development are present in Cambodian society, more has to be done to improve social justice.

“The disease of inadequate social justice here is corruption. [The government] only cares about peace and development. That’s good, but they can be destroyed without social justice. People need to have fair living,” he said.

When speaking about The Post and the publication’s influence over the last 25 years, Kimsong noted that it has helped in shaping the freedom Cambodia’s English-language press enjoys today.

“We are a role model. Independent, neutral, and we tell the truth under any condition. We gain lots of respect from the public. The Post is a great media outlet and journalism university. When I started journalism, there weren’t any schools, only work. The Post gives a voice to the public, and within 25 years, I believe that there are many quality stories that we have produced,” he said.

As an example, Kimsong pointed to the year of 1997, when Nate Thayer, a former freelance contributor to The Post, did an exclusive interview with Pol Pot at Anlong Veng before he died.

“We got a scoop. [Thayer] was the only one who managed to cover it and later on, the story spread,” he said.

“We also provide indirect education to millions of Cambodian people through the newspaper and social media. Within five big sections in The Phnom Penh Post, our in-depth stories help them understand their society. There are some lessons that schools never teach, but in the media, we have everything.”

Kimsong added that Post Khmer has since become the go-to newspaper for Cambodians to verify the news around them. He recounts an anecdote from when Post Khmer first began in late 2009 and he brought a pile of newspapers to Kampot to sell.

“Everybody was running and they came to the truck asking if they could have some. We expected them to want to read the newspaper, but actually they wanted to use it to wrap their durians and salted fish and crabs! I was so sad, but I told myself, I have to do better. My team and I are devoted to this newspaper. It’s like our baby, and this baby is now growing in reputation,” he said.

Fast forward to the present day, and Kimsong noted that the paper has now arrived in the digital era.

“We [traditional media] are like Pacquiao but social media is like Mike Tyson and bam! He knocks traditional media unconscious. I’m afraid that in less than 10 years, newspapers in Cambodia will disappear from the desk.”

For its survival, Kimsong feels that digitising the newspaper is inevitable. “That is the new business model we are looking forward to. At this stage we are 50-50: 50 percent on print and 50 percent digital. We have to do both to ensure that we get enough income to keep professional journalism alive,” he said.

Still, he believes The Post will continue to grow and enjoy a long life, envisioning it as a strong man who commands respect and prospers. He said: “I want The Post to wear the shirt of a professional and trousers that tell the truth. The heart of The Post is kindness, and it will share wisdom with the Cambodian people.”

Leaning back into his chair, pensive, and with a wistful smile, Kimsong added: “In my lifetime, I want to see that every Cambodian can read a newspaper in our own language.

“And if that happens, I will be satisfied.”

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