A panel of journalists took the first step last week toward forming a new organization through which news outlets could share information, cooperate to increase circulation in the provinces, work to crack down on unethical behavior, and share computer resources.
Speaking at two-day seminar organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, representatives from Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia), Popular Magazine, the Associated Press, Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation agreed that cooperation is needed to uphold journalism ideals and better serve the public. They talked of forming a joint newsroom.
They announced plans to form a coordinating group of five members, and invite other media outlets to attend a forum in the coming months to discuss the idea.
“Cooperation is the first step to a self-functioning, strengthening of the profession, a code of ethics and it will reduce expenses,” said Pen Samithi, editor in chief of Rasmei Kampuchea, the nation’s largest circulation daily, with more than 20,000 readers per issue.
Among the challenges facing newspapers in Cambodia today, are a lack of Internet access, problems distributing newspapers, inconsistent advertising rates, the cost of printing, and a lack of any mechanism to prevent blackmail and bribe taking by reporters, panelists agreed.
The forum was held Thursday and Friday at the Phnom Penh offices of the foundation, which hosted the third Asian-German Editors Forum earlier in the week in Phnom Penh and Siem
Some participants said the loss of money has forced them to harden editorial stances and cater to political constituencies in order to boost circulation—leading to the impression that they receive funding from political parties.
“My paper has never gotten money from political parties,” Tom Somalay, a reporter for Moneaksekar Khmer, said. “My paper is critical of the government, to the ruling party, but we are not opposition. We write critically so that readers will buy our newspaper. We write critically in order to survive.”
He added: “I will change this stance when our readers stop liking criticism.”
After the forum, five panel members agreed to set up a coordinating committee: Pen Samithi, Prach Sim, editor of Popular Magazine, Ros Than San, a representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Ker Munthit, a reporter for the Associated Press, and Soy Sopheap, a representative of Moneasekar Khmer.
The group will explore the possibility of seeking aid money to set up a common facility that would include computers with Internet access, fax machines, photocopiers and phone lines that would be accessible to all reporters. The speakers also agreed information should be shared through a liaison office that would disseminate press releases and announcements from the government, NGOs and others, in the interested of providing accurate information.
“There is no problem in cooperating,” said Ker Munthit of the Associated Press, “because we sell our stories abroad.”
We are not competing with each other.”
But he added that some interviews with sources would have to remain proprietary.