C AMBODIA'S newspaper wars have a new competitor, one unabashedly seeking more
influence for France.
But the survival of Cambodge Soir, which
debuted on May 9 by the same group that publishes Le Mekong, may depend on an
advertising market that is increasingly being sought after by many more Khmer
and English language papers. Cambodge Soir will be published three times
Aupelf-Uref, the Francophone agency dedicated to promoting the
French language worldwide, gave Cambodge Soir a $40,000 start-up
"I think we're going to find a place here quite easily," says
editor Philippe LaTour. "Many French speaking people have said to me, 'It's
great. We won't be so tired reading the Cambodia Daily (in English)'."
However, with more than 30 newspapers in circulation, the advertising
market in Cambodia is small.
Those that compete for ads all vie for the
same small pool of advertising dollars, says Craig Martin, manager of
International Management & Investment Consultants, which has done research
on the media market. He said the total spent on advertising in Cambodian media
in 1994 was about $5million. Less than $500,000 went on print advertising; the
rest went to television.
"(Cambodge Soir) is going to have to go
after the same advertising as the Mekong, the Cambodia Daily and the
Phnom Penh Post, and it's going to have its work cut out for it," he
He said the foreign newspapers in Cambodia that rely on ads are
just "getting by," with the possible exception of the Cambodia Daily,
which is subsidized by the Japan Relief for Cambodia and American Assistance
for Cambodia and so is not in the same competitive situation. The subsidies
enable it to offer cut rate ads. "They undercut all of them on rates," said
Christophe LaBorde, the project chief for Aupelf in Phnom Penh,
said the Francophone agency's mission in Cambodia was to support the use and
teaching of French in education and through the media. "This is why we gave the
grant for the daily."
In the last six months Aupelf has significantly
stepped up its activities in Cambodia and besides Cambodge Soir, it
supports French programs at the University of Phnom Penh, the Institute of
Technology, two high schools, and has recently begun courses in French for hotel
workers at the Allson Hotel.
He said the idea behind teaching French in
the high schools was to give students enough French to be able to take
university courses in French in scientific fields like medicine and technology.
Aupelf also support a newspaper in Vietnam, le Courier du Vietnam, and he
said more projects will be launched here in the future.
"We just opened
this office six months ago. Before that, we had only the Institute of
Technology," he said.
The group's work has come under considerable
pressure at the Institute of Technology, where students are staging protests
over being taught only French. The protesters say English would be more
important to them in competing in international commerce.
Soir board member Marc Victor said the paper's editorial mission is
straightforward: to give French readers news about Cambodia. "We are not
militant Francophones. We are journalists. There are a lot of people who speak
French in Cambodia. The Francophonia of Cambodia is not our problem."