Roundtable Discussion with US Officials

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In the morning of 6th February 2008, Lloyd Neighbors, Deputy Director of the Washington-based Office of Public Diplomacy Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, held a roundtable discussion with members of Club of Cambodian Journalists. Lloyd was also accompanied by Jeff Daigle, US embassy spokesman, and his local Cambodian media officer.

During the one hour and half discussion, Lloyd wanted to know the general issue about Club of Cambodian Journalists and the current media situation in the kingdom, including the media perspective in the future.

Briefing to the delegates, Mr. Pen Samitthy, President of Club of Cambodian Journalists, said the club — financially supported by Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany since the establishment in 2000, has been fought for freedom of the press, journalist protection, and journalists’ profession. Regarding to media situation, Mr. Samitthy said it is much better if compared to the past decades. The media, especially radio broadcast, now are better than before. The country has Beehive radio widely know as the government critic, selling airtime to Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and Voice of Democracy in which they have many critical articles on the government. Then, we have radio 102 run by the Women Media Center providing neutral news to the public. Radio FM 102 also sells airtime to Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, ABC Australia, and the Paris-based Radio France Internationale. This is really balance in the radio broadcast. However, he said, news on TV stations has not much changed as the stations still provide protocol news to the audience.

Replying to Lloyd who asked about the media’s censorship and self-censorship, other Board Members of Club of Cambodian Journalists said there is no direct censorship from the government and the country’s c onstitution also bans the such thing.

However, every media organization, mostly TV broadcast, has their strict self-censorship to avoid getting trouble from the government. Mr. ChhaySophal, one of the Board Members of the club, said private TV stations’ owners like doing business rather politics and giving free flow of information to their audiences. In contrast, they happily provide information satisfying the government and the ruling parties.Mr. Samitthy also told the delegates that Club of Cambodian Journalists is also seeking to make amendment the current press law so that journalists have more freedom and avoid imprisonment for their news articles. The club, he said, also seeks to have a law on access to information while the media is not strong enough if compared to three other institutions — executive and legislation bodies and the court.

Lloyd also shared his experience regarding to the press in communist China providing most positive news on the government. He said China has fired several journalists due to their critical articles on the government. China has its own words, he said, kill the chicken to scare the monkey.

Responding to Lloyd who asked what the Club of Cambodian Journalists needs in the future, Samitthy said the club needs more trainings, especially specific training on a particular issue such as stock exchange and the Khmer Rouge trial reporting, to the local journalists. Media books translated from foreign languages into Khmer is also important to provide additional knowledge to them.

After listening to CCJ members, Lloyd said it was quite interesting to learn about the good work that CCJ is doing and that even though the US has limited budget he hopes the US can provide something to the Cambodian journalists such as cultural exchange and training.

Phnom Penh, 07 February 2008