M ang Channo, the Phnom Penh Post's first staff reporter, died on Friday March 2,
having been hospitalized with illness just the previous week. He was 32. The winner
of Cambodia's inaugural environmental journalism award in 1995, Channo was the kindest
media friend we knew.
He must have been sick for a long time, but he never told us about it. He just worked
very hard, quietly and patiently, hiding his pain as best he could to write about
Cambodia and help the people. By the time we knew about his illness it was already
too late for us to do all that we felt we could, and all that he deserved. It's a
great comfort that Channo had the support and love of his family, his mother, brothers
and sisters till the time he passed away.
Channo was born in Phnom Penh in 1964, the fourth child of six. His father was taken
away by the Khmer Rouge when Channo was 12. When the opportunity came to tell this
story - in April last year, the 25th anniversary of Phnom Penh's fall - Channo was
determined to do so. With Ker Munthit, Channo wrote a truly brave, rending article,
an example of first-class journalism in any country. "From that time, everything
was completely different. There were no markets, no religion, no relationships and
no excuses," he wrote of the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime.
He recalled that, "One day, as I was being sent to join a teenagers' work unit,
my father told me: 'My son, from now on you will have to be patient if you want to
Several months later his father was sent to Toul Krasang prison. "My family
knew what would happen but, though sad, kept smiling. He never came back, even though
he had more patience than me."
Channo himself was later sent to that same prison. Seeing bodies floating down the
nearby lake, and wondering "who will be next?", he decided to escape. He
ran away in the middle of the night. "I survived," he later wrote.
Channo finished school in 1986 and joined the Pracheachun (People) newspaper. He
later worked for World Vision International before joining the Phnom Penh Post in
August 1992. Channo left the Post in January and went back to World Vision.
Channo treated his colleagues as brothers and sisters; he made firm friends with
everyone, including the guards and the cook who would always ask if Channo was coming
back for lunch. He would rather consult his friends than complain about problems
finishing an assignment.
He was committed to journalism and always tried improving himself.
He started off doing straight news stories, but moved step by step to take on harder
stories, particularly with an ecological slant. He enjoyed delving into the wilds
of Koh Kong, particularly - often just jumping into a taxi, and coming back three
or four days later saying: "Boss, I've got a good story, man" - where other
journalists would have thought twice.
That was one of Channo's traits; he'd just seem to disappear from the office during
the "slow" week, but he'd have made sure there was someone who knew who
could say: "Oh Channo, he's gone to Memot", or Kratie, or Kompong Thom.
This hard work finally gave Channo his richly deserved prize - the 1995 Environmental
Journalism and Photography Award from the Ministry of Environment. He had written
a story on shrimp farmers destroying the mangrove forests of Koh Kong - long before
that particular story became known. It was hard to know who was more proud - Channo
or his work mates. Channo was a teetotaler - but from memory he might have allowed
himself a sip from the three bottles of champagne that he won, and that his colleagues
were quick to relieve from him.
Channo had a humanitarian and patriotic heart. Channo was a Christian, and would
often go a bit beyond his profession and sneak into God's work when he was doing
One day in early 1994, Channo was researching an article on prostitution. A young
prostitute told him that she was working in Toul Kork against her will, but was too
afraid to try to escape. Channo went back to her brothel later that evening on his
motorbike, told her to jump on the back, and rescued her. He later wrote a story
about the rescuing of a girl from a brothel - without any reference to his involvement.
We don't have any journalistic ethical problems about that, Channo.
Later that same year Channo was covering the affects of the rice crop failure, which
hit Prey Veng province particularly hard.
While in the field, he bought a sack of 50 loaves of bread with his own money to
give to the hungry children there. He checked his pockets and found that he'd spent
all his money. He said he was sorry that he didn't have enough cash to buy bread
for all the children there.
With his generosity, Channo would eagerly wish to see the country in peace and the
environment being cared for so that the farmers could produce enough food for everyone.
We hope that his spirit and commitment to restore peace and save the country's forests
remain here with us as a model to other Khmer journalists and fellow Cambodians.
You've left a lot a friends behind, Channo, and only fond memories.
Finally, we would like to pray that Channo be born again in Than Boromasok, or the
happy world that our religions award a person who has done good deeds - like he deserved.