Senate’s Latest Ribbon Cuttings, in Full Color

Each month, amid the reams of government and donor publications that land on the desks of dip­lomats and government officials, there is a glossy magazine with an elab­orate gold-embossed logo and a full-color, front-page photograph of Senate President Chea Sim.

The Senate Bulletin—where even the most seemingly mundane event can merit a half page—cov­ers senators’ work in var­ious com­mittees or, more often, their ap­pearances in rural areas, at inaugurations and at other ceremo­nies.

“Sisowath Chivan Monirak, Sen­ate Acting President, pre­sid­ed over a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially inaugurate a gutter in Prek Rey commune, Lvea Em district, Kandal province on June 26, 2005,” reads the caption for one pho­­tograph in the June edition.

Diplomatic encounters feature heav­ily, and recent bulletins have shown Chea Sim with political figures such as former US ambassador Charles Ray, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il and controversial Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovitch.

The bulletin is published under the guidance of Secretary-Gener­al Oum Sarith, who maintains that it is vital to maintaining the Sen­ate’s trans­parency and ac­coun­tability.

“We think, as representatives of the interests of the nation, we must be accountable to the people. We must report everything we do,” Oum Sarith explained.

Critics charge that the Senate does little work and fills a purely per­­­functory role, though Oum Sa­rith said 20 UN Development Pro­gram-trained media staff work with­in the Senate to provide in­for­ma­tion on its activities through the bulletin and through television foot­age.

“We only publish about 1,500 copies [of the bulletin] and we send it to all the senators, to mem­bers of the National Assembly, to…the NGOs, the foreign embas­sies, to 24 provincial gov­ernors and to all the districts around the coun­try,” he said.

Those copies cost about $1,000 each month for printing and photo processing, Oum Sarith said.

Santo Voeuk, an adviser to Oum Sarith, said the bulletin’s pricey glossy format is a necessity.

“[Unlike] other newspapers in black and white, it should look more attractive because these are le­gislators and this is the Senate,” San­to Voeuk said.

Visits documented in past editions have included the openings of a pagoda, a power plant and a com­munal pagoda dining hall. Ar­ticles feature senators attending work­shops, forums and seminars run by various embassies, NGOs and businesses.

Oum Sarith said the trips to the countryside documented in the magazine help the Senate serve the public. “Sometimes [senators] bring some advice or information to the peo­ple or promote human rights…. And when they come back, they bring with them some pro­posals of the people,” Oum Sarith said.

But he added that the Senate has to assist the media in publicizing its activities.

State-controlled TVK sends cam­era crews to the National As­sembly, but the Senate must often film its own footage and submit it to television stations if it wants coverage, he said.

Chuon Na, who edits the bulletin, said it is difficult even to provide coverage of the main political parties. In September’s issue, the vast ma­jority of the photographs showed CPP senators—Chea Sim alone appeared in six, and Oum Sarith featured in three.

Putting officials other than Chea Sim on the front page is not an option, Chuon Na said.

“His Excellency Chea Sim is the highest leader in the Senate. That is why we need his picture to be printed on the front and other pa­ges…. Sometimes I try to put other officials in the front pages, but my boss always changes it,” he said.

Chuon Na has worked on the bul­letin since 2001, and said he and his staff are still receiving journalism training from UNDP. “We always try our best to change our bulletin to meet with jour­­nalism standards but we could not do it at the moment,” he said, adding that change will come gradually.

UNDP Senior Parliamentary Ad­viser Francois Beaulne said the UNDP’s six-month training sessions for staff on the bulletin is meant to teach basic journalism and production techniques, which he said were an important tool to le­gislatures in every country.

“These are just basic information techniques and basic tools,” he said, adding that the training “has nothing to do with the content or with political input.”

Nuth Sachak, a reporter and cam­eraman at the Senate, said he is allowed to write what he ob­serves independently of CPP or Fun­cinpec senators.

“Sam Rainsy Party? I never go to film with them,” he said.

Opposition senator Ung Bun-Ang said the bulletin reflects general political attitudes toward the opposition. “We really don’t have much men­tion in the bulletin. It’s very regrettable but it’s not surprising as we are excluded from all mainstream politics in Cambodia,” he said.

Several foreign diplomats questioned the usefulness of the publication. “Basically, it contains information on the various calls made by Senate Chairman Chea Sim. It is not something that we look very closely at to get serious information. It is more of a public affairs tool,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Another diplomat said publications promoting the work of gov­ern­ment bodies flood into em­bas­sies at a heavy rate. “We get so many publications—each commission of the National Assembly sends their own bullet­in,” he said. “Of course, the donors send out all sorts of pub­lications too—look at all the publications we receive from the World Bank and UN agencies. We’re literally drowning in paper,” he added.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said he seldom reads the bul­letin or other similar government-run publications, which he called “a waste of money and resources,” adding that they fail to provide an honest account of the way the country is being run.

“I hardly read them because there’s a lot of rubbish in them,” Son Chhay said. “They always prefer the propaganda way to actually telling the public what is going on.”



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