Chunks of raw onion littered the floor of the City Top supermarket on Tuesday to dampen the pungent vapors of wet paint as electricians and telephone technicians transformed grocery shelves and food aisles into the media nerve center for next week’s Asean Summit.
With just days left before top leaders from all 10 Asean member nations sit down to talks with China, Japan, South Korea and India, the official media center is slowly taking shape in a shop adjoining the Hotel Inter-Continental—the summit conference center.
More than 900 members of local and international media have applied for accreditation to cover the Greater Mekong Sub-region and Asean summits, government officials said.
That figure could be closer to 1,000 by the time the first news item breaks next week, Ministry of Information officials said.
And as the minutes count down to the summit launch, the Information Ministry is making sure the world’s media have relatively ample access to telephones, fax machines and Internet connections.
In return, the government expects local and international media to be pruned and groomed for Cambodia’s most important red-carpet event.
“[The media] have to be good- looking,” said Chhum Socheat, assistant to Information Ministry Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith.
“It is necessary that all journalists wear ties and long trousers. Short trousers and jeans will not be allowed,” Chhum Socheat said.
Apart from the dress-code, journalists will also be under the watchful eye of summit security who have orders to keep all bags and briefcases outside the media center, Chhum Socheat said.
More than 200 hundred local and 700 international media have applied for accreditation, but it is China and Japan who are leading the media presence, with both countries fielding more than 100 news people each, Chhum Socheat said.
A further 38 Indian journalists intend to cover the event, but by Tuesday, there were no signs of their accreditation applications, he said.
That may have had something to do with the complexity of the accreditation process, which had even stumped several Phnom Penh-based journalists already seasoned in the idiosyncratic nature of Cambodian bureaucracy.
On Wednesday, many local journalists still remained largely in the dark as to what to expect when the summit talks open on Monday morning.
Some questions were also floating about the fate of the hundreds of international media expected in Phnom Penh later this week, probably to find most of the city’s more prominent hotels already booked solid with summit delegates.
Despite the general feeling of confusion among some members of the media, electricians were busy installing hundreds of power sockets at the Top City supermarket and setting up eight private booths for international television news organizations such as Japan’s NHK and the US network CNN.
For the several hundreds of other media personnel who applied for accreditation, two long benches have been set up to accommodate 40 telephone/fax machines, 20 computers with Internet connection and a further 20 telephone lines for personal lap-top computer Internet connections.
Many of the larger international news agencies have chosen to avoid the media center, preferring instead to rent offices near the Inter-Continental for the duration of the summit.
According to Chhum Socheat, journalists are barred from the summit meeting, but will be able to follow proceedings on 12 televisions which will broadcast live footage of the meeting, but with no sound.
Summit news will flow from four press conferences held during the three-day summit which will give journalists an opportunity to ask questions to the 15 participating leaders.
“I think [journalists] will have the right to ask anything they want,” Chhum Socheat said.
Aside from the obvious prestige gained by hosting a major regional summit, Cambodia can also look forward to the massive media coverage that will spin out of next week’s meetings, an Asean analyst said.
Despite the well-publicized concerns about security stemming from recent attacks by Islamic militants in Southeast Asia, the summit is shaping up to be Cambodia’s most positive news event since the country’s 1993 UN-organized elections, the analyst said.
“The publicity around the summit and related meetings will provide a very high profile for Cambodia in international relations,” the analyst said. “Probably, by far, the biggest publicity since Untac.”
Officials at City Hall have been working to ensure Phnom Penh is spic and span for its foremost world debut since years of conflict finally ended in 1998.
And many government officials will probably have their fingers-crossed that it passes off glitch free.