A young woman takes up sex work to pay off her mother’s debts, the number of school dropouts is on the rise, and Valentine’s Day threatens to overwhelm Khmer culture.
If it’s going on in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, chances are you can read all about it in the district’s new community newspaper—the first paper at district level to get off the ground in Cambodia, according to media observers.
The weekly Kien Svay Community Newspaper’s first issue was released this month at 22 pages containing Khmer and English-language sections.
A project of the Kien Svay-based NGO Khmer Association for Development, the paper is funded for one year through a $45,000-grant from the New York-based Open Society Institute, said editor-in-chief Meas Chandeth.
The paper, he said, will cover a broad range of news—from farming and politics, to traffic accidents and human rights violations. It will be distributed free of charge for the first three months and will cost 500 riel afterwards.
The 12-person staff, which includes four reporters, works in a one-room office above a dental clinic in Kbal Koh commune, Meas Chandeth said.
The journalists, either students or recent university graduates, are new to the field. They underwent a three-month training course at the Royal University of Phnom Penh before starting work.
Meas Chandeth is new to journalism as well. “But we are learning as we go,” he said. “It is most difficult to find sources because many of them do not have hand phones or live far away.”
The truth is, newspapers themselves are news to many people in the area as national newspapers can be hard to buy in the district, residents said. Thy Song, a 65-year-old villager in Kien Svay’s Kbal Koh commune, said he is happy to have a paper focusing on where he lives. “I have read the [first] issue,” he said. “I think villagers will learn a lot from this newspaper.”
Meach Phay, chief of Phoum Thom commune, said he believes the new paper will help farmers by covering issues that directly relate to them.
Meas Chandeth wants people living in rural areas to have access to information and to gain knowledge and skills from news stories. He also wants the paper to communicate messages from the people to government.
But more than anything, Meas Chandeth would like to see people get in the habit of reading and responding to what they read. “We know they read [the paper]—that’s why they find our mistakes,” he said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he thinks the paper will encourage the public to read as well as write and express their ideas.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, an independent media trainer, said he is hopeful it will improve media access and attention countrywide.
“If it is truly an independent paper, it could play a major role,” he said, “especially during this crucial period prior to commune and national elections.”