MEDIA, TELEVISION, BLOGGERS AND CENSORSHIP IN CAMBODIA

MEDIA IN CAMBODIA

In Cambodia’s highly politicized environment, most media outlets are openly aligned with a political faction, leaving little space for balanced views and journalism conducted in the public interest. The majority of the approximately 20 Khmer-language newspapers in operation are owned by individuals associated with or sympathetic to the ruling party. Editors and owners of opposition-aligned outlets are often pressured financially or legally to close their publications. Only two active opposition newspapers remain. A few international publications such as the Phnom Penh Post exist. In August 2011, the Ministry of Information repealed the licenses of the Water and Fire News and the World News, two papers owned by Keo Amnot Sangkhem, as a result of perceived insults to the ruling party.[Source: Freedom House =]

All television and most radio stations, the main sources of information for the two-thirds of the population who are functionally illiterate, are owned or controlled by either the CPP or Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family and associates. Opposition outlets are often denied radio and television frequencies. However, access to international broadcasts, including RFA and Voice of America (VOA), and local independent radio services such as Voice of Democracy, is generally unrestricted. Cambodia’s poor economy presents added financial challenges to opening and operating independent media institutions. Due to low literacy rates, print media are often unable to attract enough advertising to be financially sustainable. Journalists’ pay is very low, and accepting bribes to run or not run particular stories is not uncommon. =

The state controls printed and electronic communications media and regulates their content. The most authoritative print medium in 1987 was the ruling KPRP's biweekly journal, Pracheachon (The People), which was inaugurated in October 1985 to express the party's stand on domestic and international affairs. Almost as important, however, was the weekly of the KUFNCD, Kampuchea. The principal publication of the armed forces was the weekly Kangtoap Padevoat (Revolutionary Army). [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Beginning in 1979, the Heng Samrin regime encouraged people to read official journals and to listen to the radio every day. Widespread illiteracy and a scarcity of both print media and radio receivers, however, meant that few Cambodians could follow the government's suggestion. But even when these media were available, "cadres and combatants" in the armed forces, for example, were more interested in listening to music programs than in reading about "the situation and developments in the country and the world or articles on good models of good people." *

Newspapers in Cambodia

Newspapers published in Cambodia: Sneha Cheat, Thngay Pram Py Makara news, Kohsantepheap Daily, Moneaksekar Khmer, Rasmei Kampuchea Daily, Sralanh Khmer, The Voice of Khmer Youth, The Voice of Cambodia, The Cambodia Daily (English), Phnom Penh Post (English) and The Southeast Asia Weekly (English). According to Freedom House: Due to low literacy rates, print media are often unable to attract enough advertising to be financially sustainable. Journalists’ pay is very low, and accepting bribes to run or not run particular stories is not uncommon.

The Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post are English-language daily newspapers. The Cambodia Daily for the most part reports without being censored and has published many stories sharply critical of the Cambodia leader Hun Sen, his government and policies. The Mekong Times was publishing daily for a brief period, but publication of this paper ceased in August 2008, due to withdrawal of funding by one of its financial partners. The longtime French-language Cambodge Soir shut down in 2010 due to financial difficulties.

The Phnom Penh Post is a daily English-language newspaper published in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Founded in 1992 by publisher Michael Hayes, it is Cambodia's oldest English-language newspaper. It is printed in full-color tabloid format. The Phnom Penh Post is also available in Khmer language.It also publishes a special weekend-edition called 7Days. The Phnom Penh Post has a staff of Cambodian and foreign journalists covering national news. The newspaper includes specific business, lifestyle and sports sections, and also prints a "Police Blotter", which has items related to crime translated from local Khmer-language dailies. [Source: Wikipedia +]

In early 2008, the newspaper received investment from some Australians and became a daily publication on August 8, 2008. Before that the printed edition was published on a fortnightly basis, and read in Cambodia and worldwide by over 20,000 people in more than 40 countries. The Post's news and analysis provide regular and thorough coverage of current issues in a rapidly changing Cambodia. Significant events covered range from the UN-sponsored Paris Peace Accords and subsequent elections, to the promulgation of a new constitution enabling the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. +

The Cambodia Daily is an English-language daily newspaper based in Cambodia. It was started in 1993 by Bernard Krisher, an American journalist. Krisher hired two young and relatively inexperienced journalists, Barton Biggs and Robin McDowell, as the paper's first editors. The first issue was published in 1993 and the paper has published ever since. It is printed in Phnom Penh in an A4-size format and is delivered six days a week, Monday to Saturday, with the Saturday edition accompanied by a full-color Weekend magazine. The Daily has access to copy both donated and purchased from major news outlets and wire services (Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post) and has a staff of Cambodian and foreign journalists covering local news. A daily section in the Khmer language carries articles translated from the main English-language section. +

Censorship and Freedom of the Press

There are examples of a free press and examples of censorship in Cambodia. Newspapers freely printed stories about rumors that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was romantically be involved with a popular actress that was murdered. But at the same, one newspaper was shut down after it ran stories criticizing King Sihanouk. A law passed in 1995 made it an offense to “humiliate” national institutions. Although defamation, the charge most frequently leveled against journalists, was decriminalised in 2006, stiff fines now discourage aggressive reporting.

According to a 2012 report by Freedom House: “Press freedom in Cambodia remained under attack in 2011, as the authorities continued to develop and utilize legal mechanisms to silence independent media. For much of the year the government pushed for passage of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), but domestic and international objections forced officials to postpone the legislation in late December. The law would impose an opaque registration process and other requirements that were expected to fetter the work of community groups, including grassroots media outlets. [Source: Freedom House =]

Other laws regulating the media are vaguely written and unevenly applied. The 1993 constitution guarantees the right to free expression and a free press. However, media personnel are often prosecuted under provisions of the 1995 press law that prohibit reports deemed threatening to political stability. A new penal code that took effect in 2010, replacing an older version established by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), continues to criminalize defamation, barring written criticism of public officials or institutions. Those convicted of defamation face a potential fine of 10 million riel ($2,500). Separately, in August 2011, the Anti-Corruption Law came into effect, threatening whistleblowers with criminal penalties if their allegations are determined to be false. Movement during the year on a potential Access to Information Act was promising, though the legislation was in its early stages. =

The government uses defamation and other criminal charges to intimidate journalists, and the courts lack independence, as most judges are closely tied to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Cases sometimes linger for years, and individuals are often charged arbitrarily or through the retroactive application of new laws. In January 2011, a coordinator with the local rights group ADHOC was fined 1 million riel ($244) and ordered to pay 3 million riel ($732) in compensation to a company—owned by the wife of the minister for industry, mines, and energy—that he had “defamed” during an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA). The interview, however, occurred in 2009, before the new penal code under which he was charged came into effect. In October, the provincial prosecutor of Siem Reap sued Pen Samithy, editor in chief of the Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper, for publishing two articles on illegal logging in the province. Also that month, RFA journalist Sok Rathavisal was summoned to appear in court to answer incitement charges dating back to 2009, when he covered a land dispute in Ratanakiri Province. The case was still open at year’s end. =

Attacks on journalists have decreased, as the government now relies more on legal intimidation and sanctions to control the press. However, physical intimidation does occur. At a press conference in January 2011, anticorruption official Om Yentieng ordered an aide to confiscate the recording devices of journalists after a reporter asked a question about an unsolved 1997 grenade attack against opposition activists. Earlier that month, police grappled with Phnom Penh Post photographer Sovan Philong, seizing his camera and deleting photos he had taken of controversial evictions at Boeung Kak lake. The cases of 10 journalists murdered since 1993 all remain unsolved. =

Dam Sith, Editor of Moneakseka Khmer Newspaper was arrested in June 2008, in Phnom Penh for printing allegations that Cambodia’s foreign minister had ties to the Khmer Rouge. Sith, who is also a candidate of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party for the city of Phnom Penh, Sith was summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal court to clarify on a lawsuit brought against him by Hor Nam Hong for publishing an article quoting opposition leader Sam Rainsy discussing about Cambodian ministers who were former members of the Khmer Rouge regime. The Cambodian Club of Journalists (CCJ) called on Hor Nam Hong to withdraw this lawsuit, as “a sentence against a newspaper which cited a MP or a politician would be an attack on the rights of journalists.” Shortly afterwards a court ordered his release. [Source: Khmerization, June 9, 2008]

See Hun Sen

Journalists Killed in Cambodia in the 2000s

Ten journalists have been killed in Cambodia since 1992. Attacks against journalists in Cambodia have fallen in recent years as the government has turned to the courts to punish reporters or publications it feels have violated the press law, critics say.

1) On September 11, 2012 the wounded body of Hang Serei Odom, a reporter for the Khmer-language Virakchun Khmer Daily, was found in the trunk of his car at a cashew plantation in the O'Chum district of northeastern Ratanakiri province, according to news reports. The journalist's wife had reported him missing two days earlier after he failed to return from an appointment, news reports said. The Cambodia Daily quoted local police chief Song Bunthanorm as saying that Hang Serei Odom had been hit in the front and back of the head with an ax. The official said at least two people were involved in the murder. No suspects were immediately identified. Hang Serei Odom reported frequently on illegal logging activities in Ratanakiri province, according to news reports citing the editor of Virakchun Khmer Daily. In a September 6 report, the journalist had alleged that a provincial military police officer was involved in the illicit timber trade and had used military vehicles to smuggle illegally cut logs, according to news reports. [Source: Committee to Protect Journalists<>]

2) On July 11, 2008, in Phnom Penh, Khem Sambo, a journalist with the opposition-aligned Khmer-language daily Moneaseka Khmer, was shot twice while riding his motorcycle with his 21-year-old son, according to international and local news reports. His son was also shot and killed. The gunmen, who were on a motorcycle, sped away after the shooting, news reports said. Moneaseka Khmer is affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and Sambo was among the publication's most hard-hitting reporters. An analysis of Sambo's reporting in the weeks before his murder, compiled by the Cambodian League for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights and reviewed by CPJ, found a steady stream of critical reporting on Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People's Party. Sambo's most recent reports, written under the pseudonyms Srey Ka or Den Sorin, touched on allegations of government corruption, internal rifts inside the ruling party, and questions about the distribution of benefits from recent rapid Chinese investment in the country. Moneaseka Khmer is one of only a handful of consistently critical publications in Cambodia; the broadcast media all report unswervingly in the ruling party's favor. Cambodian police officials said they had not identified a motive or suspects in the murder, which occurred during the run-up to general elections on July 27. <>

3) On October 18, 2003, in Phnom Penh, Chuor Chetharith, a radio journalist and deputy editor of the royalist FUNCINPEC party's Ta Prum radio station, was gunned down on the streets outside his station, He was linked the royalist party. He was shot in the head by two men on a motorcycle. According to witnesses interviewed by Agence France-Presse, Chetharith, 37, was shot in the head at point-blank range in broad daylight. Local sources tell CPJ that Ta Prum is known for its critical reporting of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and that the station's director, Noranarith Anandayath, is an adviser to FUNCINPEC party chief Prince Norodom Ranaridhh. The day before the shooting, the prime minister criticized Ta Prum in the English-language Cambodia Times, accusing the station of insulting his leadership. <>

Chetharith's murder came ahead of scheduled three-way talks between the FUNCINPEC party, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). The talks were canceled after the journalist's killing. They had been aimed at ending a political stalemate following the July 27 elections, when Hun Sen and his CPP failed to garner a two-thirds majority of the vote. By law, the CPP was required to form a coalition with opposition parties but refused to do so. In early December, Police Commissioner Heng Pov told the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) that although police have identified possible suspects in Chetarith's murder, they do not have enough evidence to make any arrests. The CCHR conducted an in-depth investigation into the killing and concluded that Chetarith was killed because of his work as a journalist.

Journalists Killed in Cambodia in the 1990s

4) On October 14, 1997, in Phnom Penh, Ou Sareoun, a reporter for Samleng Reas Khmer (Voice of the Cambodian People), was dragged into the street by security guards as he was distributing newspapers to vendors in the market and shot dead. The newspaper was investigating extortion in the central market of Phnom Penh, and security guards had been the target of the newspaper's investigation. The official report of Ou's death said he was drunk and had been killed in a dispute over a card game, but the Khmer Journalists Association maintains that he was killed because of the newspaper's reporting. Police arrested the guard who shot Ou, but he was later released, and no charges were filed against him. [Source: Committee to Protect Journalists <>]

5) On July 7, 1997, in Phnom Penh, Michael Senior, a freelancer, television newscaster and English teacher, was assassinated while photographing looting by soldiers in a public market in the aftermath of a coup begun two days earlier by then-second prime minister Hun Sen. He was accosted by the soldiers, Hun Sen loyalists, who shot him first in the knee. As he lay in the street pleading for mercy, he was shot again, executed in front of his Cambodian wife and brother-in-law. The 23-year-old Canadian citizen was born in Cambodia, where he was orphaned as an infant during the Pol Pot terror years. In 1975, he was adopted by a family in Canada, where he was raised. He returned to Cambodia in 1995. He had earlier worked at the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh editors say that Senior's pictures, had they been recovered, would have been used in their coverage of the coup. <>

6) On March 30, 1997, in Phnom Penh, Chet Duong Daravuth, a reporter for the newspaper Neak Prayuth (The Fighter) who had recently obtained permission to publish a new paper, was killed in a grenade attack outside the National Assembly while covering a Khmer National Party rally where opposition leader Samuel Rainsy was speaking. Other journalists were injured, and at least 26 people were killed. The motive for the attack is believed to be political. <>

7) On May 18, 1996, in Phnom Penh, Thun Bun Ly, a writer and former editor of the opposition newspaper Odom K'tek Khmer, was fatally shot while riding a motorcycle in central Phnom Penh. The journalist was appealing two convictions on charges of defamation and disinformation for criticizing the government in articles and cartoons. The paper was ordered closed by the government in May 1995. <>

8) On December 8, 1994, in Kompong Cham, Chan Dara, Koh Santepheap, reporter for the Khmer-language newspaper Koh Santepheap, was fatally shot while leaving a restaurant in the northeastern province of Kompong Cham. Dara had reportedly received threats from local officials who thought he was writing articles for Preap Norn Sar, an opposition newspaper that had reported on corruption in the region. Though a high-ranking army officer was arrested days after the murder, he was released in May 1995 after a provincial judge acquitted him for lack of evidence, according to a report by the news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). During the trial, the defendant, Col. Sat Soeun, "admitted that he had been drinking with the slain journalist on the day of the murder, but testified that another man had emerged from some bushes and fatally shot Chan Dara in the back" after they left the bar, according to the DPA. <>

9) On September 6, 1994, in Phnom Penh, Nun Chan, editor-in-chief of Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, was shot and killed by two unidentified gunmen in central Phnom Penh. Nun had received several official warnings and anonymous death threats for his coverage of government corruption earlier in the year. <>

10) On June 11, 1994, in Phnom Penh, Tou Chhom Mongkol, editor-in-chief of the Khmer-language biweekly Antarakum, died one day after police found him lying unconscious on a Phnom Penh thoroughfare. Prior to Mongkol's death, Antarakum had carried a number of articles charging government and military officials with corruption, and its offices had been the target of a grenade attack in March. <>

Television and Radio in Cambodia

All television and most radio stations, the main sources of information for the two-thirds of the population who are functionally illiterate, are owned or controlled by either the CPP or Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family and associates. Opposition outlets are often denied radio and television frequencies. However, access to international broadcasts, including RFA and Voice of America (VOA), and local independent radio services such as Voice of Democracy, is generally unrestricted. Cambodia’s poor economy presents added financial challenges to opening and operating independent media institutions. [Source: Freedom House]

Radio and television were under the direction of the Kampuchean Radio and Television Commission, created in 1983. In 1986 there were about 200,000 radio receivers in the country. The Voice of the Kampuchean People (VOKP) radio programs were broadcast in Khmer, Vietnamese, French, English, Lao, and Thai. With Vietnamese assistance, television broadcasting was instituted on a trial basis in December 1983 and then regularly at the end of 1984. As of March 1986, Television Kampuchea (TVK) operated two hours an evening, four days a week in the Phnom Penh area only. There were an estimated 52,000 television sets as of early 1986. In December 1986, Vietnam agreed to train Cambodian television technicians. The following month, the Soviet Union agreed to cooperate with Phnom Penh in the development of electronic media. Cambodian viewers began to receive Soviet television programs after March 1987, through a satellite ground station that the Soviet Union had built in Phnom Penh. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Subic Bay Satellite sells transmission time on two old Russian satellites positioned over Tonga to state television companies in Laos, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.

Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In Cambodia, Korean soap operas dubbed in Khmer and locally made karaoke videos are popular. Viewers outside the cities watch these programs on communal TVs with rabbit ears powered by car batteries. As a result, Cambodians are largely unfamiliar with "American Idol" and "Jersey Shore," which prize extroversion and catharsis, leading to muted reactions during the show's reunions. "Some people are shocked and don't know what to do, and simply stand and look at each other," Prak Sokhayouk said. Others are overcome with feeling but attempt to conceal this from the camera, in keeping with a culture that frowns on outward displays of emotion.” [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, November 03, 2012]

In July 2011, Associated Press reported: “Cambodia’s prime minister has denounced two U.S.-funded radio stations for what he described as inaccurate and unfair reports. Hun Sen said that reports broadcast in the Cambodian language by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were groundless. The stations carry news and analysis sometimes critical of the government on subjects such as human rights and corruption. Shortwave radio stations are a major source of unfettered news for people in Asian countries with authoritarian regimes, such as Cambodia and Myanmar. Satellite TV broadcasts are also popular where media is controlled or heavily censored by the government. [Source: Associated Press, July 23, 2011]

Reality TV Show Reunites Families Separated by the Khmer Rouge

'It's Not a Dream' is a reality TV show that fills a vacuum in Cambodia by reconnecting long-lost relatives. The reunions are in front of a studio audience.Reporting from Phnom Penh, Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Moy Da hasn't seen his sister in nearly 40 years. Like countless Cambodian families, they were separated during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The brutal communist regime made it official policy to dismantle the nuclear family, which it considered a capitalist relic, and divided much of the population into slave labor camps. In 1975, Moy Da, then 5 years old, and his parents, who died three years later, lost track of 15-year-old Pheap when the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh and marched residents to the countryside. He has not seen her since, and the passage of time has not dulled the pain. "Pol Pot took my sister from me," he said. "I don't think I can go on living unless I see her again." [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, November 03, 2012 ~]

“For the first time in years, Moy Day has hope that they will be together again, thanks to a groundbreaking reality TV show here. "It's Not a Dream," which premiered in 2010, has reunited nearly two dozen families separated during the Khmer Rouge days and the decades of civil war and poverty that followed. Employing a team of young researchers who scour the country for the missing, it brings together lost loved ones in emotionally charged reunions filmed in front of a studio audience. In the absence of Cambodian institutions that perform this role, and in a country where neighboring villages can seem worlds apart as a result of the enduring societal fractures caused by the Khmer Rouge, the show is one of the few avenues for Cambodians who hold out hope that missing relatives are still alive. ~

“After calling the show's hotline, Moy Da met with researchers in a windowless room one recent afternoon in the bowels of Bayon TV, a popular network. After compiling a dossier on his case, they would take it to local authorities and broadcast it around the country on Bayon's television and radio stations. Nearly 60 people call the show's hotline every day, and there are a half-dozen successful reunions waiting to be filmed. Although there are no ratings services here, the show has enthralled an audience of Khmer Rouge survivors, who make up about a third of the population. "Nearly every Cambodian family lost someone. Our show gives them hope, and it allows viewers to go back to their own story, to say to their children, 'See, this is what happened to me,'" said producer Prak Sokhayouk. ~

“Prak Sokhayouk must strike a balance between the show's social purpose and her duty to entertain the audience. She must also weigh concerns about privacy — if one party does not want a reunion, the case is closed — and fears of unleashing dormant trauma among survivors of extreme hardship. (The show does not employ psychologists, who number less than one for every 200,000 people in a country where PTSD is widespread.) Eng Kok-Thay, director of research at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which investigates Khmer Rouge crimes, said the show helps create a national discussion about the missing. He estimates that 50 percent of Cambodian families were separated by the regime, which reorganized a society structured principally around family into one built almost exclusively for labor. Children as young as 5 were forced to leave their parents and join work crews. "It was easier to control people if they were separated. The Khmer Rouge became their family," Eng Kok-Thay said. ~

"It's Not a Dream" helps these families too. On an evening in September, Heng Vicheka, 25, sat on a Bayon soundstage and described, in a voice ragged with sorrow, how he lost his family in 1993. They had lived in Banteay Meanchey, a remote northwestern province that was a stronghold of Khmer Rouge guerrillas, when he wandered off one day and couldn't find his way back home. What followed — a procession of orphanages and odd jobs, punctuated by physical abuse — left him desperately poor and unmoored. After a series of video montages described his circumstances, the moment finally came when his mother and father joined him on stage. Overwhelmed, Heng Vicheka removed his sandals, a sign of respect, and fell into their arms, his back to the audience. His mother, Phorn Sopheap, sobbed softly and said, "I never thought I would see you again." She vowed to shave her head to give thanks to the gods that reunited them. Many in the audience wept silently. “ ~

TV Doctor Kills Self in Cambodia after French 'Survivor' Death

In April 2013, Associated Press reported: “A well-known TV doctor overseeing the French "Survivor" reality show has committed suicide following the sudden death of a young contestant he had treated, France's biggest TV station says. Dr. Thierry Costa killed himself on location Monday on an island in Cambodia, the TF1 station said. Costa, 38, blamed the press for damaging his professional reputation in a handwritten suicide note that TF1 published on its website. [Source: Thomas Adamson, Associated Press, April 2, 2013]

It was the second death in as many weeks to hit the prime-time "Koh-Lanta" show broadcast by TF1. The first tragedy was a 25-year-old contestant, Gerald Babin, who died March 22 during the first day of filming for the show's 2013 season. Babin went to Costa to get treated for mysterious cramps he had during the season's first tropical challenge but died in a hospital soon after following a heart attack, according to TF1. The network has not released any details about what the contestants were doing before Babin died but French media said he was engaged in a tug-of-war.

The French version of the show — which has broadcast 15 seasons to date — asks contenders to complete sometimes intense physical challenges to win food. Like in other countries, participants are gradually voted off as the season progresses. An inquiry into possible "involuntary homicide" in Babin's death was launched by the Creteil prosecutor's office southeast of Paris and TF1 immediately cancelled the show's season. But controversy over Babin's death grew. Anonymous comments appeared in French media accusing Costa, the on-air doctor, and Adventure Line Productions of negligence that contributed to Babin's death — charges that all parties vehemently denied.

Costa's suicide note addressed these allegations. "These last few days my name has been smeared in the media. Unjust accusations and assumptions were uttered against me," he wrote on notepaper from the hotel where the "Koh-Lanta" team was staying. "Having to rebuild this destroyed reputation seems unbearable to me, so this is my only possible choice." In his suicide note, Costa's last wish was to be cremated in Cambodia so that his body never had to return to France.

The government deported a California man who operated a website promoting Cambodia as a place for foreigners to commit suicide. Roger Graham, 57, was detained at his residence in southwestern Kampot province, authorities said. "His website lured people in the world to come to commit suicide in Cambodia," a police official said. The website, apparently directed at terminally ill patients, notes that "euthanasia is not illegal in Cambodia." [Source: Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2006]

Cambodia Overturns Ban on Foreign Radio Programs

In June 2013, Radio Free Asia reported: “Cambodia has overturned a much-criticized order banning local radio stations from broadcasting foreign programs ahead of general elections. The Ministry of Information said in a statement that it was reversing the June 25 directive following "requests" but did not elaborate. Prime Minister Hun Sen's administration had come under fire from the United States as well as foreign and local rights groups for directing all FM stations to cease rebroadcasting Khmer-language radio programs by foreign broadcasters in the run-up to the July 28 elections. [Source: Radio Free Asia, June 30, 2013]

Khmer programs of at least three foreign broadcasters—U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA), as well as Radio Australia—had been barred from being aired under the directive, which was seen as a major setback to media freedom in the country and aimed at stifling the voice of the opposition. About 10 local FM stations carry Khmer programs by RFA, which also broadcasts on shortwave in Cambodia.

"Due to requests asking the Ministry of Information to allow the rebroadcasting of foreign programs in Khmer language through local FM radio stations, the ministry allows all FM radio stations that sell airtime to foreign radio stations to resume broadcast as normal from today," the ministry said in the statement on Saturday. It added that its June 21 directive ordering all stations in the country not to broadcast opinion polls or messages from political parties five days before election day still stands.

Mam Sonando, a Cambodian activist who runs the independent Beehive Radio and is an ardent critic of Hun Sen's administration, had called the ban "illegal" and "childish." He said the order would hurt political parties scrambling to convey their messages to the people ahead of the elections. "The directive is a flagrant infringement on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and is yet another incident that starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process," John Simmons, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said in a statement.

Computers and the Internet in Cambodia

Owing to infrastructural and economic constraints, only 3.1 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2011. However, the government has grown concerned with the internet’s potential as a medium for opposition voices. For several weeks in February, many opposition websites, including the popular news aggregator and commentary blog KI-Media, were inaccessible. Though VOA and the Phnom Penh Post reported receiving official and leaked documents indicating that the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications ordered the shutdown, the government denied involvement. [Source: Freedom House]

In 2001, there were only two computers for every 1,000 people and there were only 10,000 Internet users in a country of 13 million people. In 2008, government data showed only about ten percent of Cambodia's 14.4 million people had Internet access.

Cambodia’s largest computer seller, who was selling 600 computers a month by 2004, began his business in 1995 by crossing the border into Vietnam and smuggling back computer parts on his back and assembling them in Cambodia. Some foreign aid groups are introducing Internet-ready computers with solar collectors and satellite dishes to villages.

In August 2012, asiancorrespondent.com reported: Cambodia has begun to rank high among the countries repressing internet and telephone freedom in the name of national security, safety and social order. It is still not comparable to China or Vietnam, but Cambodia is moving in the wrong direction. In February 2012, Cambodia adopted an “inter-ministerial circular”, according to which every Internet cafe in the country has to set up surveillance cameras and any phone shop has to register callers using its services. According to an unofficial translation obtained by the Asian Correspondent, the circular is meant to “promote protection of national security, safety and social order for the country”. Even though nothing has been implemented thus far, the circular is a threat to every phone and Internet user in the country. [Source: Clothilde Le Coz, http://asiancorrespondent.com , August 30, 2012]

Cambodian Bloggers Opening up Conservative Society

In June 2008, AFP reported: “When Hor Virak started blogging in 2005 he was one of only a handful of bloggers in Cambodia and quickly gained a following for his frequent postings on technology. At first, he said, "I just rode my motorbike around and took interesting pictures to post on my blog". But by the beginning of 2007 he was attracting several hundred readers a day and now says he is thrilled with his new-found celebrity. "When I started it, I had no idea it would take me to this level of fame," he said, sitting at his laptop in a Phnom Penh café. He is among a lively group of Cambodian bloggers -- or "cloggers" as they call themselves -- who are opening up this tiny, conservative country to the wider world and potentially bringing in unprecedented social change. [Source: AFP, June 18, 2008 ~~]

“Cambodian bloggers are keeping online diaries which they use to reflect on personal relationships, school and social issues, expressing opinions that are traditionally kept private. "This kind of public expression is a new thing that never happened in our society," said Be Chantra, who trains bloggers through a non profit organization called the Open Institute. ~~

“Blogging in Cambodia did not have an auspicious start. In 2003, Be Chantra and two other colleagues travelled the country training 2,000 students to blog in an initiative funded by Microsoft and United States aid agencies. "It was not successful," Be Chantra said, shaking his head. Fewer than five percent of his students were able to keep a blog afterwards as they could not access the Internet, he said. Since then, however, more than 1,000 Cambodians have turned to blogging and most of them are students who began by their own initiative, said Be Chantra. ~~

“Cambodian bloggers now meet regularly and hold workshops to teach each other about new software applications. Most see this as great progress as the Internet only arrived here a little more than a decade ago. "If the Internet was cheaper, faster and easier to access there would be even more bloggers," said Be Chantra. Despite patchy access to the Internet, 20-year-old university student Keo Kalyan has begun earning an income from her blog musings, written under her online identity as "DeeDee, School Girl Genius". More than 200 visitors per day check out her postings, which are usually written in pink, and the Indian cosmetics company Shaadi has begun buying advertising space on her site. "The money isn't much, but I'm happy my voice is being heard," Keo Kalyan said. ~~

“The majority of Cambodian bloggers write in English so they can reach a global audience, but very few touch on one of blogging's most popular topics: politics. Be Chantra's Khmer-language comedy blog is read by the Cambodian diaspora in the US and Japan but those hoping for something beyond humour are confronted with a banner on his site that reads: "No Politics Here". "Politics could easily hurt you and it is nonsense," he said. ~~

“Last year Radio Free Asia reporter Lem Pichpisey fled to Thailand after receiving anonymous death threats for his reports alleging Cambodia's political elite were involved in illegal logging. "The good thing about a blog is that it can be anonymous and you still can be contacted," said Gary Kawaguchi, a digital media trainer at the Department of Media and Communications of Cambodia. "But the press here is very controlled and people still find out who you are so bloggers still have to be careful," he added. ~~

“Chak Sopheap, a university student who started a blog in her own name last year to draw attention to Cambodia's impoverished rural communities, said she was threatened criticising the ruling Cambodian People's Party. "The message said, 'If I were you, I would run. Otherwise you will be killed,'" Chak Sopheap said. While her fellow bloggers have vowed to keep their political criticism anonymous, Chak Sopheap said she will continue to post her views, claiming her blog affords more freedom of expression than Cambodia's mainstream media. "Through blogs people change their attitudes and open their closed-lip habits. They can talk about how society can be developed," she said. ~~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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