It’s been interesting to read a series of Khmer-language media reviews by a Cambodian scholar over the last few issues in the Phnom Penh Post.
While this analysis has raised a concern over the politics and ethical issue of the Khmer press, many other significant improvements of the Khmer media should be acknowledged.
First of all, we can say that the Khmer-language media in general have become much more professional in their news coverage during the past few years since the last general elections in 2003.
In the past, people would often read news and find sources that came mainly from government officials and politicians. Now, they can find other sources of information, including the voice of ordinary people and information from non-governmental organizations and other experts. News that was usually opinionated and one sided is now more facts based and balanced.
This development can be attributed to the improvement of professional skills through training among journalists and the public’s demand for real news that matters to them.
When free press was first introduced to Cambodia in the early 1990s, some observers had portrayed the Cambodian media as a “mad dog” instead of a watchdog for their unethical attacks on their rival media and politicians.
However, this rivalry has almost become a thing of the past. The solidarity and friendship of journalists have gotten stronger, particularly since the creation of the Cambodian Press Council early this year, which brought together 14 of the 15 media associations in Cambodia.
Reporters from different political spectrums who would not want to face each other before can now be seen sitting side by side at news conferences, workshops and other public venues such as at the famous tamarind trees near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh where many journalists meet every morning to exchange story ideas.
Thanks to the increase in professional skills, many reporters from Khmer-language press have been hired by foreign-language news organizations like the Phnom Penh Post, the Cambodian Daily, the Mekong Times and Cambodge Soir. This is a good incentive and motivation for the improvement of higher professional standards.
Consequently, it has created a competitive atmosphere among different media and journalists. This competitiveness paves the way for a circle of professional development from financial independence to editorial independence of the press.
The Cambodian media now realize that the professional development circle is the backbones of all successful media. They know that a newspaper that is editorially independent can produce quality news products that serve the interest of the readers whose number can multiply gradually as a result.
As the readership increases, advertisers also take notes and are encouraged to place their advertisements in a newspaper that can help make news about their products reach out to many people.
In return, this generates more revenues to the newspapers that can become financially independent and be able to hire good journalists to do their jobs professionally. When a newspaper does not need economic support from politicians and businesses which may have political and economic interests, they can avoid being influenced by these groups in their decisions on their news coverage and become editorially independent.
Cambodian media and journalists understand that this professional development circle is crucial for their survival in the free marketplace of ideas. Because of this environment, dozens of unethical and unprofessional press in Cambodia had seen their own demise over the past decade.
Nonetheless, despite all these improvements the Khmer media still face difficulties in exercising their role as a watchdog of the government and other institutions.
The major challenges include the lack of the freedom of information law and personal security that has forced many Khmer journalists to exercise self-censorship by avoiding sensitive stories that can put their life at risk.
As Cambodian media are moving towards higher professionalism, Cambodian journalists, civil society groups and other concerned institutions have made great efforts to push the limit of press freedom in Cambodia and to push for the adoption of the access to information act.
If the access to information law i vs passed, we hope that we can envision a democratic society of Cambodia, where journalists can fully exercise their rights and freedom and do their jobs with the highest professional standards.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh