T HE state-run news agency Agence Khmere de Presse (AKP) is expected to receive $2 million from the government to upgrade its unsophisticated services, the agency's General Director Sum Mean said.
The money was part of a $5 million pledge from the state reserved fund to modernize the government information channels, including radio and television to boost their capability in releasing information, he said.
It is yet to be seen when the money will be disbursed, however Mean said that the project to revamp AKP has already been given the greenlight from the government.
He said that the project's first stage, early next year, was to install within his department a computer network worth about $400,000. All of the agency's ten provincial offices - with three more to be set up in Koh Kong, Mondulkiri and Svay Rieng provinces - will be hooked to the main headquarters on modem telephone lines.
With nearly 300 people working in it, the agency produces daily bulletin in Khmer, French and English languages from ten computers - a modern technology introduced only six years ago to replace typewriters.
While only four of them are connected to two available UPS, the rest are running on the risk of power surges from the on-and-off electricity supply in Phnom Penh. The agency doesn't have its own printing house and the bulletin is printed on a Roneo machine which is about 30 years old.
Viewing the present conditions his agency is operating under, Mean said that it is yet to deserve the name of a "national agency", let alone be competitive with private agencies.
"Competing for information is a necessary factor like a human's need for rice to eat. We want our national agency to be strong, effective and able to spread news to all corners of the world," he said.
The Ministry of Information's representatives nationwide gathered for a two-day meeting (Dec 20-21) to discuss the poor budgetary and technical conditions they are facing. The meeting ended with the government acknowledging the problems and setting out more plans.
The ministry has plans to instal FM radio stations in all provinces and cities between 1996-2000. On Nov 21, the ministry and the Japanese aid agency JICA signed a $20 million grant to build a new broadcasting center inside the ministry's compound.
Training staff is also part of the master plan which, according to the report, will boost the effectiveness of a national information network to counter the flood of "negative news" about Cambodia.
Sum Mean said that for AKP to become effective, the state-owned information channels must be allowed to operate with some autonomy by using incomes generated from their activities to finance future programs.
"That does not mean all staff do not have to be paid by the government. But, it is a part of opening up of the national economy and it will enable people to be more creative in their work," said Mean.
Speaking at the conference, Second Premier Hun Sen backed the idea and asked the information and finance ministries to study ways for its implementation. "I think the solution of economic autonomy can be brought up... Incomes they [information channels] earn will improve their standards... and enable them to equip themselves step by step," he said.