The internet has for the first time surpassed television as the most important source of news about the country among Cambodians, according to a new study.
Thirty percent of respondents this year said the internet, and Facebook specifically, were their go-to news sources compared to 29 percent who said they got most of their news from TV. Last year, a quarter of those surveyed cited the internet and social media as their key news sources, compared to about a third who still turned to TV first.
TV outlets in the country—all of which are operated by government officials, their family, or friends of the ruling party—have essentially “committed suicide” by failing to broadcast quality news, said Kounila Keo, a blogger and public policy scholar.
Cambodian TV “has not been able to deliver news besides ‘daily protocol news’ and pure entertainment programs,” Ms. Keo said.
TV viewers only see what state broadcasters air, while online “there are many more people who can broadcast information,” Javier Sola of the Open Institute, one of the study’s authors, said by telephone on Thursday.
The shift toward online news consumption is “opening you to new sources of information,” he said.
While only 2 percent of Cambodians read newspapers, nearly “a third of the population is now reading news stories,” according to the study, which cited Facebook as the most frequented site for written news.
“This is a huge change in culture” and “a positive change for the country,” Mr. Sola said.
The study, which examined internet and mobile phone use in Cambodia, was released on Thursday by The Asia Foundation, Open Institute and USAID. Researchers interviewed 2,061 people aged 15 to 65 during September.
Ms. Keo said the internet’s wider reach would likely bring greater civic engagement and more open public discourse without fear of repercussions.
However, its rise also brings challenges, like knowing which news to trust.
“Things like fake news…or rumors that have been spread on the internet, this is another downside of the technology,” said Bun Tharum, a tech blogger and communications specialist.
“Getting people to learn about how to verify or differentiate between fake news and trusted news—that will take a lot of time.”
Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed said they used the internet for entertainment versus 30 percent who said they used it for news.
The number of internet users more than doubled between 2012 and September of this year, from 2.7 million to 7.1 million, according to Posts and Telecommunications Minister Tram Iv Tek, who spoke at the opening of the ministry’s new headquarters in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
Despite the proliferation of propaganda or “fake news” online, Mr. Sola, the study’s author, said broader access to the internet and diverse news sources would be beneficial in the long run.
“The development of this ability to say, ‘No, this is not right,’” would help internet users develop critical thinking skills over time, he said.
While TV has lost some ground to the internet, it remains an equally important source of news—but maybe not for long, the study’s authors say.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)