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A voice for the voiceless

A voice for the voiceless

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Brave broadcaster: jailed Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Today is World Radio Day. The UN decided in 2011 to promote radio as a medium to improve co-operation between broadcasters and encourage big networks and community radio stations alike to promote access to information and freedom of expression over the airwaves.

Radio is a vital communication tool in Cambodia, as almost 40 per cent of men and women aged from 15 to 49 listen to the radio weekly.

In rural areas, radio is often the only medium that can rapidly disseminate critical information about social issues or natural-disaster preparedness to large, remote audiences.

The majority of Cambodia’s population live in rural areas without access to television or print media.

Despite the success of smartphones and the internet, radio is still the most pervasive, accessible, affordable and flexible mass medium available. This is why the role of radio in society is under close examination today.

In its 2013 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders states that conditions for the media are now critical in Cambodia.

This is attributed to the policy of censorship orchestrated by the government and the deadly attacks and death threats carried out against journalists who expose government corruption and illegal activities.

The jailing of independent radio station owner Mam Sonando and the murder of journalist Hang Serei Odom, who had been investigating reports of illegal logging by local officials, provide chilling examples of this crackdown.

Of the 120 radio stations in Cambodia, only four refuse to be subjected to the authorities’ will, and Voice of Democracy Radio (VOD) is the only national media outlet broadcasting non-biased news.

But VOD is constantly being challenged. It was asked repeatedly by Cabinet officials to remove an article from its website relating to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An’s fainting on February 1.

There is arguably no more important struggle for democracy than ensuring a diverse, independent and free media. A free press is at the heart of that struggle, which is why the situation is so problematic.

In a functioning democracy, a free press is not a privilege but a necessity, but the monopoly of the media in Cambodia has resulted in content becoming one-dimensional. This leads to a less-informed public.

A multiplicity of outlets offer a multiplicity of voices, but a concentration of media ownership, overwhelmingly dominated by the government or its allies in the business community, is not a healthy situation for freedom of expression or for a plurality of perspectives.

This is why radio’s, and VOD’s, role in Cambodia is critical.

VOD is unique in that it’s an independent, local broadcaster known for quality public-service programming.

It serves as a tool for social enquiry, as a means of cultural expression and entertainment, for collecting, preserving and enhancing oral and musical heritage, for gathering information on social issues, and as a means for training and transferring knowledge and technologies.

It’s also an agent for social change, a channel for expressing ideas and opinions, and a tool for conflict management and resolution.

VOD and its independent media partners provide an alternative mass medium to overcome the shortcomings and political bias of state, and other commercial, broadcasters.

The cornerstone of a democratic media system is that it helps to create a well-informed public.

According to the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, VOD was the only national broadcaster providing truly independent coverage of the 2012 commune elections, allowing people to listen to various opinions and perspectives from both government and opposition-party representatives, as well as from civil society and the private sector.

We aim to continue providing this vital service during the national elections in July.

Radio is a low-cost medium ideal for reaching remote communities and vulnerable citizens such the illiterate, the disabled, the rural poor and indigenous groups.

It offers these people a platform to intervene in public debate, irrespective of their social standing, wealth or level of education.

Through its live call-in shows, village debates and the broadcasting of community forums, VOD promotes the exchange of views, brings people closer together, stimulates information and enhances the value of local
knowledge.

Only radio has the power to do this in Cambodia.

To mark World Radio Day, UNESCO’s Phnom Penh Office is collaborating with the Cambodian Center for Independent Media and the UNESCO community radio program in Ratanakkiri province to produce a phone-in radio show.

The show will air today from 16:00 to 17:00 on Sarika FM 106.5 in Phnom Penh and Sarika FM 95.5 in Siem Reap.

Pa Nguon Teang is executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, the legal entity of VOD Radio. 
 

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