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Govt springs media surprise

Govt springs media surprise

THE Royal Government has moved towards ending its conflict with the media - dubbed by some as the fourth Indochina War - by appointing a Western journalist as media consultant.

Experienced Cambodia watcher Sue Downie is taking a six-month sabbatical from the wire agency UPI to fill the wide-ranging post.

Among her tasks will be advising senior government figures on how to deal with the media, improving the government's image at home and abroad and setting up a commercial national radio station.

Downie will also be advising on how to revamp the government news agency AKP and television station TVK and recommending the appointment of public relations officers to every ministry.

Internationally government leaders have particularly been angered by coverage of the hostage crisis and Downie will be offering public relations advice on the issue.

Downie's appointment may come as a surprise to some in view of three statements emanating from Co-Premier Norodom Ranariddh's office criticizing UPI stories written by her. She would only describe the apparent irony as "interesting."

Talking of Ranariddh she said: "He and other senior leaders realize there is a problem in the relationship between government and the media and are looking to seek advice on how to change that."

The government has come under fire for moves to control the largely inexperienced Khmer press, enjoying relative freedom for the first time.

Downie, an Australian citizen, described herself as "100 percent in favor of press freedom" and said she would be pushing for it in her dealings with government.

"One of the problems is that some people don't know how to do the job [media relations] but they are willing to listen to suggestions."

She sees encouraging improvement in the Khmer press as a priority. "Some of the material is way below an acceptable journalistic standard. It is rubbish," said Downie, who in 1988 became the first Western wire correspondent back in Cambodia since 1975.

The appointment was signed by Sok An and Veng Sereyvuth, Ministers in Charge of the Offices of the Council of Ministers and is being financed by discretionary funds from Australian Ambassador Tony Kevin.

Downie said she was keen to take up the new appointment after watching the government fumble the media ball many times.

"For me it was very frustrating seeing what could be done in so many areas that were not being done that I was just itching to get in there and make suggestions."

Her biggest problem she said was "not having enough time to do the job even though I work 19 hours a day."

She stressed: "Changes are not going to come overnight, they may take the full six months. All I can do is offer suggestions it is up to them [if they are taken up]."

Downie, 18 years a journalist and author, will take up her appointment on Nov 1 after completing a book on the Untac period. After her government contract expires she will be setting up a Hanoi bureau for UPI.

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