In Cambodia, traditional media, once instrumental in mobilizing support for the ruling party, are weakening in influence, according to an analysis in the latest quarterly issue of Media Development.
This trend can be explained by growing discontent at the media’s failure to address nepotism, cronyism, chronic corruption, Vietnamese migration, deforestation and land grabs, writes Theara Khoun in an article titled “Revisiting Cambodia’s contemporary media landscape.”
Social media are stepping in to fill the vacuum. “The rise of social media as an alternative to, if not an outright replacement for, pro-government media means that information and these shortcomings can no longer be monopolized or concealed,” writes Khoun, a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace and a former foreign affairs and political reporter for the Voice of America.
Internet access has becomes less of a luxury and the cost of smartphones is plummeting by the day. Six years ago, fewer than 10,000 Cambodians had a web connection and it was extremely slow. “Today, 3.8 million people or nearly 40% of the population have access to the Internet, mostly via their smartphones. Of those, nearly two million users have Facebook accounts,” he writes.
While Cambodia’s traditional media often run stale, pro-government content, social media feature more varied coverage, and users can comment, share, and express their opinions without fear of censorship. Sensitive issues such as human rights violations and land grabbing – not covered by traditional media – are often discussed online, especially via Facebook.
Additionally, the rising popularity of international broadcasters (Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and Radio France International, citizen journalism, donor-driven media initiatives, foreign-language newspapers) gives news consumers more options and access to independent coverage.
As a result of this trend, the opposition now dominates in most of the populous provinces and cities where access to the Internet and information is most prevalent, says Khoun.
However, “although information posted online is timely, pluralistic and interactive, it is often unreliable, misleading and provocative, while generally favoring the opposition,” Khoun notes.
The full article is available with a subscription to Media Development. Information on subscribing may be found here.