The radio programme Talkback: Our life, Our society, on Radio National Kampuchea (RNK) that facilitates open conversation between government officials, nongovernmental organisations, citizens, businessmen and anyone who wants to call in to debate equality, good governance and development.
The programme has been an ongoing effort by RNK, with support from AusAID, to engage people from all walks of life in conversations about how to improve their country. Initially the program was part of the AusAID sponsored Radio Development Assistance Project (RDAP). But beginning last year it began to receive funding from Demand For Good Governance (DFGG), an AusAID and World Bank initiative through ABC Radio International that will continue until 2013.
The success of the programme over the past five years encouraged AusAID and the World Bank to contribute additional funds, said Rath Nheata, the team leader of DFGG. “In the new project, the focus is on good governance, natural resource management, national financial management, exploitation, as well as centralisation and decentralisation.”
In the past five years, “Talkback has been getting better and better. First it was an hour a week, then three hours a week, now five hours a week from Monday to Friday 11:00am to 12:00am,” said Tan Yan, co-director of RNK.
While the change in the show’s focus is more in line with the goals and values of DFGG, it has not been generating the same level of audience feedback.
“During the first project, RDAP, there were more than 100 callers within an hour of the programme, whereas now we have only 40 or 50,” said Lim Sok Khon, team leader for Talkback Our life, Our society, who suggested that the drop might be due to a lack of understanding about good governance and related topics. However, many listeners say they feel that Talkback is very valuable.
“Talkback is a bridge between people and government. The need of citizens cannot reach the government all at once, but through Talkback we can work together with the government,” said a student at Chamroen University of Technology in Phnom Penh. One of the things that is keeping Talkback from reaching its full potential is the fact that the format requires transparency from the government, and the Cambodian government has long been hesitant to talk about issues of public importance. “Talkback is still very challenging,” said Rath Nheata.
“We cannot invite the high-ranking government officials here to debate about equality with our listeners.”
Lim Sok Khon added: “When a topic is relevant to the national economy, we cannot bring on the right person from the government because they are afraid to say things that would shed a negative light on the government.”
While Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith acknowledges that the government is not perfect and that feedback is needed in order to straighten out in a good way. But according to Rath Nheata, “the practice of having [balanced input] is still limited.”