Cambodians Like Their News From Facebook

Increasing numbers of Cambodians are turning to the Internet and Facebook for their news, according to a report set to be released on Thursday by the Open Institute, a local technology NGO.

The annual research study “Mobile Phones and Internet in Cambodia 2015”—funded by USAID’s Development Innovations program and The Asia Foundation—says that while more Cambodians still tune into their televisions for updates on current events, the Internet, thanks largely to Facebook, is quickly catching up.

A young man uses his smartphone on Phnom Penh's Koh Pich island on Wednesday. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)
A young man uses his smartphone on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island on Wednesday. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

In a nationwide survey of 2,064 participants aged 15 to 65, 24.9 percent of respondents told researchers that Facebook/Internet was the “most important” news source, while 31.8 percent said they relied primarily on TV. Only 17.8 percent said they turned to radio.

“It’s a huge change…on how people communicate and how they receive news,” said Javier Sola, a program director at the Open Institute and one of the report’s authors.

In the organization’s 2013 report, TV (38.9 percent) and radio (38.8 percent) both ranked as more popular than the Internet and Facebook (15.2 percent).

The Internet “will soon—maybe next year—be as important as television,” Mr. Sola said.

This year’s report notes that a plurality of the 34.4 percent of respondents who reported using Facebook said they joined the social network “to stay in touch with friends (39.2 percent).”

A follow-up question asked subjects why Facebook was valuable to them, with 31.3 percent responding that it was because they used it to “obtain information about events in Cambodia,” while 29.5 percent cited communication with acquaintances.

Jesse Orndorff, an innovation program manager at Development Innovations, said the move to the Internet reflected an approach by local media outlets to seek a younger audience on a variety of platforms across the Web.

“I think what we are seeing is just a lot more Khmer news publications taking to the Web and using social media as part of what they’re doing as a strategy like VOD Hot News,” Mr. Orndorff said.

“Websites like that are really engaging people on social media, and can provide that as a tool to share the news,” he said.

According to the report, 39.5 percent of the country’s populace now owns at least one smartphone while 28.6 percent access the Internet from their own phones.

Raymond Leos, dean of Pannasastra University’s Faculty of Communication and Media Arts, said the effects of young people using Facebook to consume the news were evident.

“I’ve been in Cambodia for 15 years and I see and tell people this: that we have a long way to go, of course, but the sophistication of these kids—being aware of the world outside of them—is miles ahead of the youth then,” Mr. Leos said.

“Facebook has been a way for these kids to access the world.”

Din Darathtey, a local blogger said that the increasing availability of Khmer script on smartphones and computers was also bringing the Internet to people who had previously faced hurdles accessing online sources. The report says that 27.3 percent of respondents had written in Khmer script on their phones, an increase of nearly 50 percent compared to 2014.

“When more and more people start writing in Khmer, it invites people to start using the platform because they can read the Khmer script,” Ms. Darathtey said.

She added that increasing numbers of young adults were taking to Facebook for news, dissatisfied with the alternatives.

“TV being under almost 100 percent government control, that news is not enough,” Ms. Darathtey said. “There is a lot of news sources in the country now that kind of use Facebook as a tool to publish.”

“It’s more than just receiving the news one way,” she said. “It’s about sharing with friends or writing comments and sharing it again to other sources. It almost makes people kind of feel like they are involved in the news.”

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