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Fears for ethnic radio’s future

Fears for ethnic radio’s future


Rorchom Saroeun, a 20-year-old ethnic Jarai radio announcer, broadcasts during a program for ethnic minority communities on FM 95.5 in Ratanakkiri province. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

‘Mae Mang Kit Sith Ngay Panes Laek Ra Kornong Pades Krae” in the mother tongue of the ethnic Tumpoun minority translates to “global human rights affairs”, which is exactly what the Voice of Ethnic Minority Communities radio program has been bringing to the most isolated ethnic communities in Ratanakkiri since 2007.

The radio program broadcasts in four languages – Jarai, Tumpoun, Kreung and Prao – for two hours, five days a week, and program president Eoun Som Ath said there was increasing demand for more air time.

“If possible, I want to add more broadcasting hours, because it is a significant program for the ethnic minorities to learn about health issues, agricultural methods and their own traditions,” he said.

A small team of reporters working for the program spend eight days a month reporting in some of the most secluded and remote areas in the Kingdom to bring current affairs discussion from communities speaking one of the four languages to the program, which is broadcast on the National Radio.

Rorchom Saroeun, 20, sits silently as he carefully translates verbally spoken Jarai language – his own ethnic mother tongue – into a phonetically compatible Khmer-language written statement to be read by the broadcaster on Voice of Ethnic Minorities.

Saroeun, who is one of the field reporters for the program, said ethnic villagers are often too shy to be interviewed for radio because they feel ashamed of their poor oratory skills. His reporting missions often take him deep into the jungles and plantations of Ratanakkiri to find and learn about the ethnic communities.

“I can put up with the difficulty [to secure interviews] for the benefit of the ethnic minorities,” Saroeun said.

Over the five days, the program covers education, health, agriculture, culture and law issues relevant to the ethnic minorities.

Kreung ethnic minority Keus Davy, 20, an agriculture journalist for the program, said the Kreung communities benefited greatly from education in their mother tongue.

“I am very happy when I see many ethnics listening to my radio program. If this project is stopped one day, it will seriously affect them because they lose the right to get information,” she said.

The prospect of the operation collapsing in the face of funding shortages is a very real fear for program president Som Ath, who has not yet heard whether UNESCO, which has funded the program since its inception in 2007, will renew funding for 2013.

“In 2010, we used to stop our operation due to budget shortages. I am worried we will not be able to resume our operations anymore in 2013 if the donors don’t continue their fund,” he said.

For 18-year-old Tumpoun minority Soeung Kora, the program provides a two-pronged benefit: an understanding of and an appreciation for modern technologies, such as sanitation and healthcare, and on the other hand, an understanding of and an appreciation for traditional culture, such as ceremonies and rituals.

Conversing in the Tumpoun language as she sold fruit brought from her family’s plantation, she said her family had advanced greatly from agricultural know-how broadcast on the program in their language.

“The Voice of Ethnic Minority Communities program is very useful for the illiterate people. Without this program, we can’t listen to others, because we know Khmer language well but the elders will get no information in the province,” she said.

Dam Chanthy, the female president of the Highlander’s Association, who is a Tumpoun staffer focusing on land rights education to that ethnic minority in Ratanakkiri province, said she witnessed progress in leaps and bounds after the radio was launched in ethnic language.

She added that remarkable attitude changes had occurred in the spheres of health and education, with the program encouraging villagers to seek out medicinal assistance at hospitals when they were sick and to send their children to school.

UNESCO chief of mission Anne Lemaistre told the Post by email yesterday that the program would be funded through until the end of 2012.

“It is indeed a very nice project Unesco is proud to have launched and has been supporting for three years now,” she said. “Unesco is working to ensure the funding next year too.”

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]
With assistance from Bridget Di Certo