The Ministry of Information is sponsoring the first annual Gratitude Awards for reporters who have produced exemplary work that demonstrated courage, intellect and insight and advanced the profession of journalism starting in the 1970s.

There will be five award winners chosen along with five persons who will receive an honourable mention for their efforts.

Phos Sovann, the ministry’s Information and broadcasting director-general, said this is the first time that the ministry has organised an awards programme to encourage reporters.

The Gratitude Awards organisation committee planned to select the winners with a particular emphasis on veteran reporters. The committee will study the reporter’s backgrounds, samples of their work as journalists and their personal qualities.

“For veteran reporters we’ll look for people who have a clear history of published work going back to earlier decades up to today. For the current generation of reporters who started work in the past decade we will only consider those reporters who are registered and authorised by the ministry,” he said.

Sovann added that the committee planned to pick two reporters who had begun their careers in just the past decade, one actual award winner and one for an honourable mention.

The awards selection committee this year will have representatives from the ministry, the Club of Cambodian Journalists, Fresh News, Thmey Thmey and TNAOT News.

Veteran Cambodian reporter Kong Vorn has been covering stories here since 1970.

He said that back when he started the job, it was incredibly dangerous because many reporting work were carried out in battle zones and members of the media didn’t know if they can make it back alive.

Despite that, Vorn said, they remained defiant in the face of danger and refused to stop because of their commitment in gathering the facts to inform the public.

“The authorities in that era had a lot of secrets. They would try to play down the intensity of the battles or hide their casualty numbers. We still managed to get information though – often from soldiers who had enough of the war and had deserted their post to try and make it back to safety on their own. The truth always comes out somehow,” Vorn said.

Vorn added that reporters in the 1970s-era had jockeyed with each other for position and status and were extremely competitive with each other when it came to getting scoops, with very little thought to the dangers that were all around them.

“The [soldiers] would stop us and tell us that we were crazy because there were bullets flying everywhere, but nobody was afraid or at least they didn’t show it.

“All the reporters who worked for the big news agencies like UPI and AP were there with us trying to find their next big story.

“I was with Kyodo News and technically we weren’t allowed to go into the combat zones, but we still did anyways and ended up getting stuck there once in a while too,” Vorn said with a laugh.

Another veteran reporter from a later era in Cambodia’s history, Mondul Keo, said he started his career in 1985. He said he did not have to deal with as much war or violence day to day but the job still was not easy back then as his only means of getting from place to place was a bicycle.

Going on a bike ride might not sound so bad to some, he admitted, but the real problem came after he got his information gathered.

“I’d be out all day taking photos, interviewing people, getting the facts . . . But Cambodia’s lack of telephone lines meant that I’d end my day most days pedalling away frantically, as fast as I could, back to the headquarters to write my article and submit it by the deadline,” he recalled.

Keo welcomed the idea of having the awards, saying: “Seriously, reporters do make a huge contribution to society. They serve as a mirror that allows society to see its own reflection and know itself. So I do think it would be well-deserved for reporters to have their own awards each year.”

Veteran Cambodian journalist Puy Kea said that encouraging reporters in Cambodia is important because they play a key role in keeping everyone informed, even the nation’s leaders.

“There are many news reports that fail to reach the country’s top leadership and the rank and file. So reporters have a very key role in highlighting information that might otherwise be neglected and help illuminate it.

“They help to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and also our leaders,” he said.