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Why global media does not care about Cambodia’s peacekeepers

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Cambodian UN peacekeepers parade at a Phnom Penh military airbase last year. Heng Chivoan

Why global media does not care about Cambodia’s peacekeepers

Two weeks ago, the UN wrote on its official Facebook page extending gratitude to Cambodia for its active participation and sacrifice for peace in many peacekeeping missions around the world.

The recognition won the heart of many Cambodians, with the post shared 6,500 times.

However, while the sacrifices of poor, post-conflict countries like Cambodia have been recognised by the UN, it has consistently failed to win the attention from of the international media.

Specifically, on May 9, 2017, four Cambodian peacekeepers were killed in an ambush in Central African Republic.

Shortly after the incident, national media, such as The Phnom Penh Post, Khmer Times and the former Cambodia Daily provided coverage of the issue.

Yet surprisingly, leading international news media, including the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian, failed to report on Cambodia’s human losses in supporting peace and security in Africa.

There were only two international news outlets that circulated stories about the Cambodian sacrifice in UN-sanctioned peacekeeping missions – Al Jazeera and Reuters.

Ten days after the dramatic event, Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary general, made a statement to mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers by saying: “We pay tribute to the more than 3,500 peacekeepers who have given their lives in the service of peace since 1948.’’

The sacrifices made during UN-led peacekeeping missions also covers Cambodian peacekeepers, but why did so much of the global media fail to report on the Kingdom’s contribution to world peace?

In my opinion, the international media is not interested in Cambodia’s human losses in supporting peace and security in Africa, and for three reasons.

Firstly, there appears to be a widely held perception within global media that Cambodian peacekeepers do not contribute much to UN peacekeeping missions.

But in fact, Cambodia is the third largest contributor of peacekeepers in Southeast Asia, and is internationally ranked 29th out of 122 troop-contributing countries.

Since 2006, Cambodia has sent 6,053 blue helmets to join UN peacekeeping operations in conflict areas around the world.

More importantly, this support for global peace and security has been widely recognised by the UN.

Kosal Malinda, spokeswoman for the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance, has said Cambodia should be proud of its achievements.

Major General Michael Beary, Head and Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, has praised the demining team from Cambodia.

“I wish to publicly acknowledge their professionalism and courage as they set about this work,” he said last year.

Secondly, Cambodian peacekeepers are clearly not on the agenda of international media.

In choosing and displaying news, international news editors may have their own agenda-setting.

Generally, international news outlets report the deaths of Western peacekeepers owing to the fact that it might attract more attention from people around the world.

A recent study shows that global news media tends to provide more coverage of deaths in Western countries, such as France, Spain and the UK, than on much of the rest of the world, based on approximately 93 reports from the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the New York Times and Reuters.

Moreover, the study confirms that international media has more favourable views of, and consistent attention on, the peacekeeping operation commitments of Western countries.

This would be evidence of the agenda-setting of mass media in international news coverage.

Thirdly, there has been a considerable increase in media reporting on the negative aspects of Cambodia’s politics, rule of law, human rights and governance in recent years, which is likely to influence how such media sees the country’s peacekeeping operations.

On the top of that, international media rarely mentions positive aspects of the Cambodian government, such as the maintenance of national peace over the course of 25 years in the challenging environment of a post-genocide society.

By achieving peace and political stability, Cambodia was able to make its first contribution to a UN peacekeeping mission in 2006.

According to a working paper published in January by Future Forum, a Cambodian think tank, the lack of media coverage of Cambodia’s peacekeeping missions affects the image of the country in the international community.

Global media coverage is essential for UN peacekeeping operations – particularly for small states like Cambodia.

The international media needs to act as an agent in clarifying and disseminating information on the service performed and the sacrifices made by all countries and without bias.

Chan Sam Art is a Junior Fellow at Future Forum, an independent Cambodia-based public policy think tank. He is currently conducting various research projects on soft power of small states, Cambodia in particular.

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