Listeners are intrigued, some are bored and many get angry—but they are tuning in.
Radio talk shows, whatever their political allegiance, are often accused of presenting only one side of an issue. But the broadcasting of roundtable discussions or public forums—in which groups of people offer varying opinions on specific topics—is gaining popularity.
A collection of conflicting views can spark the interest of Cambodian audiences, but they can also find what they hear upsetting.
“Some issues are not compatible with my issues,” said student Teb Phearun, 19. “I am interested in listening to discussions because new ideas are produced, but sometimes they make me angry.”
Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that no one has expressed any discomfort with his roundtable discussions because everyone seems to relate to at least one of the opinions expressed. He began to produce the shows in January 2003 for radio stations Beehive FM 105, FM 90, and Battambang’s FM 90.25 Kleing Moeunt.
During the elections he invited representatives from NGOs and each political party to join three- to five-person forums discussing human rights, education and women’s issues.
“The Cambodian people really need to understand the ideas from each political side,” Kem Sokha said, adding that his programs after the elections also represent different political views.
On Jan 11, a roundtable program about education aired on Beehive radio and included representatives from the UN Educational and Scientific Cultural Organization, the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association and the Ministry of Education.
Business owner Nor Sareth, 56, said he especially enjoys the public forums aired on Beehive radio.
“I agree with debates and idea expression,” he said. “It is not upsetting, it makes me feel good to hear what people think.”
Minh Min, 25, a cyclo-driver from Svay Rieng province, said he only listens to roundtable discussions when he happens to catch them while switching radio channels.
“Some of it is interesting and some of it is boring and useless,” he said. “Some of the views expressed bother me.”
He said he would rather listen to FM 95’s “culture program,” in which callers express their political viewpoints—most of which are favorable to the CPP and Prime Minister Hun Sen and critical of Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Many people enjoy listening to the arguments of others and are beginning to feel more encouragement from society to express themselves, said Chea Vannath from the Center for Social Development.
She believes roundtable discussions are positive but said some stations need to be more professional and impartial to get accurate information to their listeners.
The Center for Social Development has produced public forums since 1996 and invites specific types of guests to discuss certain issues, Chea Vannath said.
“If we are talking about sex trafficking we invite a prostitute, a brothel owner, a police officer and maybe someone from an NGO,” she said. “If we talk about the Khmer Rouge, we invite Khmer Rouge members and victims.”
For a time the programs were broadcast on TVK television station, but the shows were often edited because of the sensitivity of the discussions, she said. Now the public forums are presented on radio stations such as Beehive and the Women’s Media Center FM 102, where the entire shows are aired.
Ta Prohm radio station FM 90.5 broadcast its first roundtable program on Jan 12. The discussion referred to Vietnamese people living in Cambodia. Although the guests, which included a senator, businessmen and professors, brought up different ideas regarding Vietnamese immigration, everyone promoted the long-held view that it has a negative influence on Cambodia.
A former professor of pedagogy said that the amount of immigrants moving to Cambodia from the larger country of Vietnam will hurt Cambodian culture.
The roundtable discussions will continue to be broadcast at 6:30 pm each Monday and Wednesday, said Noranarith Ananda, the station’s director.
“It will be like the US ‘Meet the Press,’” he said. “We will feature guests like NGOs, ex-politicians, ex-government officials and professors to discuss problems and solutions.”