Vanguards of the Blogosphere
In the past five years, blogging has emerged in Cambodia as a personal publishing tool, enabling people to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression. The Blogosphere in Cambodia is far more active than in neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, thanks in part to a group of five advocate bloggers who held 20 blogging and Web technology workshops in 2007 with funding from the International Republican Institute (IRI). Those workshops, which introduced some 2,000 students from more than 10 universities to the opportunities within the blogosphere, began the formation of a community of bloggers who came together at a 'cloggers' (the word for Cambodian bloggers) summit at Pannasastra University of Cambodia last year. At the conference, which was sponsored by IRI and the Open Institute, hundreds of people shared their experiences trying to write stories that were attractive to Internet audiences. The summit also drew bloggers and social media experts from neighbouring and Western countries.
Blogging is an ideal way to become involved with other young Cambodians looking to make a difference. In countries where freedom of expression is limited in the public domain, blogging has been used as an affordable and convenient tool for exchanging ideas, opinions and a range of views on the news of the day. While blogs offer a unique opportunity for self expression, media experts view blogs as a double-edged sword. Some bloggers may strive to be honest and righteous, but others can use their blogs to spread misinformation or defamatory comments. After being introduced to blogging at a workshop in 2007, Sopheap Chak, a 24-year old former human rights advocate, became interested in the two-way communication tool and the possibility of opening a dialogue to debate social topics, mainly regarding rights and governance. Her online conversations on the Web remain clear and focused, despite warnings and advice from friends. "I still get advice from my friends to please be careful, do not be too outspoken; Cambodia is not the United States or any European country." said Chak Sopheap, currently a student at International University of Japan. In a blog post in May last year, she touched on two alleged corruption issues within the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. "In Cambodia corruption continues partly because the people see it as something 'normal' that most are unable to change. Besides, there is a lack of political commitment to encourage people to speak out against it and hold authorities accountable," wrote Sopheap in May last year, thus setting the stage for a discussion amongst her readers.
Poverty, poor education, and corporate and social responsibility are among the topics that 28 year old Borin Ly frequently comments on. He says that most of his blog posts are inspired by everyday experiences. "I wrote my recent post on food safety because having breakfast with my mother, I started to look at the food and thought: 'Is it healthy?' Then the problem of food safety came into my mind," said Borin Ly, adding that he has heard many complaints from friends about chemicals that are not supposed to be used in food.
Asked whether online dissidents' voices are being tracked by the government, Andy Brouwer, a veteran British travel blogger said, "They are probably off the radar at the moment. The written press is the big thing that seems to be in the spotlight. I'm not sure the authorities have enough media-savvy people to spend time sweeping through the Net, though I could be wrong."
While blogs provide a platform for honest discussion among those with Intenet access, the reality is that less than one third of 1 percent of Cambodians have regular Internet access. Web-based journalism is not being read nearly as much as traditional print media, which has more than 400 registered newspapers. Freedom of speech may be spreading quickly online, but the development of the Kingdom's print and television media must follow if the entire country is going to participate in these discussions.
Labels: Phnom Penh Post