The Club of Cambodian Journalists on Wednesday launched a project aimed at extending the nation’s capital-based media to its provincial urban centers. Observers hope the project, supported by the European Union and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, will help strengthen Cambodia’s democracy.
The project will be conducted in Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces, and will last three years. The first stage will involve a year-long survey in each area, after which project coordinators will assess the area’s media requirements. Local writers and investors will then be invited to form a newspaper, and be given any advice and support they may need over the following two years.
The locations were chosen for their strength as centers of business and tourism, and for their number of residents. The surveyors have chosen Siem Reap as their first location.
Pen Pheng, president of the club, considers broadening the media an essential part of a growing democracy. “People can tell their stories of injustice to the media in their area,” thus making local officials more accountable, he said.
“The project will also help the economy, because it will create more jobs for the people who live in these areas,” Pen Pheng added.
“Most newspapers currently published in Cambodia focus only on events in and around Phnom Penh, and maybe a little bit in the provinces,” he continued. “So we know very little about events in the countryside.”
Peter Koppinger, a representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, was emphatic about the project’s purpose. “To increase democracy is to bring print media to the provinces,” he said.
“We will encourage people or businessmen who want to open newspaper offices in those provinces, by giving them some ideas and doing this survey for them.”
But the project will not be giving any financial support to the fledgling newspapers. “We don’t want to give out funds, because that means when the funds finish, the newspaper will finish too,” he said.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, was also optimistic about the project. “It will be good if all those newspapers are independent, because it will help people there show their troubles.
“But it will be dangerous for journalists who work there,” she cautioned. “I think journalists will know about a lot of stories, but they won’t be able to write about them because they will be afraid they will get into trouble.”