Mirror Website Is Still Reflecting Cambodian Media

The Mirror had released only four issues when CPP and Funcin­pec forces clashed in the streets of Phnom Penh during the factional fighting of July 1997.

One key staff member abandoned the nascent project, and Norbert Klein, the German national who edits the Mirror, was obliged to make a swift assessment: “Are we going to do this thing or not?”

Ten years, many rocky times and one death threat later, the ans­wer is still “yes.”

This week, the Mirror reaches its 500th week in circulation and, while it was forced last year to restrict circulation to the Internet for monetary reasons, it has been a consistent presence in the Cam­bodian media since 1997, monitoring undercurrents of Khmer-language publications and lending a broad perspective to the spectrum of news and opinions in Cambodia.

The English-language version of the Mirror started as a project of Open Forum, a Cambodian NGO that works to facilitate dialogue in society by orchestrating discussion groups and Internet communication, according to 73-year-old Klein.

The original mission of the English-language Mirror was “to show the non-Khmer reading public how the different voices in the Khmer press deal with each other,” which at times can be “very roughly,” he said in an interview this week.

Each day, the Mirror’s small and fluctuating staff translated a handful of articles from Khmer-language newspapers in addition to 20 or so headlines, and Klein wrote a weekly editorial that hooked onto a newsworthy event and put it in context. The whole package was published once each week.

A year later, in 1998, the Khmer version called Kanychok Sang­kum, or “mirror of society,” was launched “to foster inner dialogue” in Cambodian society and prompt people to consider viewpoints others than the ones in their “favored” paper.

The English version went to paying subscribers, but over 2,500 Khmer-language versions were sent every week to the provinces and to members of the National Assembly free of charge.

Last year due to an array of difficulties, the Mirror became exclusively an online publication at http://cambodiamirror.wordpress.com and is now backed by the Open Institute, an NGO started by four former members of Open Forum.

Due to cutbacks, Klein now selects each day one article and around 15 headlines from the Khmer papers to translate, though he has kept up the weekly editorial.

The road for the Mirror has been bumpy on the way to its 500th week.

Klein was summoned to court once on defamation charges be­cause of a translation he had included, and he received a death threat by mail several years ago.

Independent media trainer Moeun Chhean Nariddh said the Mirror’s online status makes it an asset to the community, providing free and easy access.

When Klein came to Cambodia in 1990, the press consisted of little more than the “Xeroxed, hardly readable newsletter” released by the Information Ministry, he said. The growth of the media since that time is positive, he said, but still leaves much to be desired.

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kan­harith said that there are now nearly 300 newspapers registered with his ministry.

He added that he supports the Mirror, which he said “reviews all the different angles” presented in the Khmer-language press.

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