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20 May 2008

Talkback Radio Cambodia


Radio voices: You're looking at 36 minutes from the ring road to Kingsway.
I hate them.
I'm a nurse. Am I going to lose my weekend penalties?
Callers took to the airwaves on Sydney's talkback radio.
Enough is enough.
There is deep concern down there, isn't there, of Middle-Eastern invasion.
People who wanted to kill me and people who wanted to put me in jail.

Ta Rath: This is the first time that RNK has talkback radio program.

Bhuvan Bhatnagar: Some of my colleagues, who are Cambodian, said, "Hey, have you heard about this program on radio where citizens call in - villagers, poor women, urban slum dwellers - and ask hard questions from government officials?"

Tan Yan: (translated) The talkback program is a program that was created under the support of the Australian Government. It receives assistance from AusAID, in collaboration with the ABC Radio Australia.

Kate Elliot: For Cambodia, it is a large step. I mean, we look at media in Australia. You know, talkback radio and access to media for the public is something we take for granted. So for a state institution like Radio National Kampuchea to take on talkback radio for the first time, has been, you know, initially quite challenging.

Ta Rath: The national committee or national broadcaster has been considered as a mouthpiece of the government.

Khieu Kanarith: They are suspicious first, because many Cambodians, like everywhere in the world, they view the government own the radio or TV as a tool for propaganda. After the Khmer Rouge, people feel scared. They scared. They fear for what they had to express about what has happened to them. By encouraging them to participate in this talkback program, and after many years, now they see that there's nothing negative or bad happen to them.

Theary Seng: The culture of fear exists to this day - it's the legacy of the Khmer Rouge. For four years, we were mute. Survival means to be silent. Four years of this is still very much ingrained in us. In recent years, as early as two, three years ago, we had a journalist killed under a very highly suspicious condition, we had civil society leaders, human rights leaders, imprisoned. If journalists are imprisoned or are punished - and this is their job to be speaking out - it's a very powerful message to inhibit someone from speaking out. This again, it's recent past that we're talking about. We're not talking about the Khmer Rouge here.

Khieu Kanarith: Cambodian people don't like to talk much. That's why we want to encourage them to give opinion and to participate in this process to democratise this Cambodian society.

Ta Rath: The first year, if you talk about serious topics, any sensitive issue, number of callers drop. I think they're still scared. They understand, "OK, even though it's state broadcaster but I can talk openly."

Tan Yan: (translated) It's freedom of expressions without being censored.

Kate Elliot: There has been a willingness by Radio National Kampuchea to tackle what I think are some of the tough issues and they've also managed to attract, you know, senior-level government officials to talk about those tough issues.

Ta Rath: Hot topics for talkback are deforestation, land grabbing. In the lead up to the local election, we invited all political parties to come on air. And this is history, on RNK. First time ever that opposition parties are invited to come on the air.

Bhuvan Bhatnagar: There have been instances that we've been informed where there has been some level of intervention from the government's side.

Ta Rath: There is still some suspicious self-censorship by presenters. Border issue between Vietnam, Cambodia and China, Vietnamese migrants. So it's very, very hot topic and we don't want to bring that issue yet. We cannot rush with a state broadcaster because then you will frighten them and they don't want to move forward.

Tan Yan: (translated) The live show is not being censored and it doesn't have to pass anyone either.

Khieu Kanarith: On the talkback show, we don't read the question and we don't indicate that, "This question you must not ask or not." They are free to call in.

Bernadette Nunn: So they could call in now and talk about corruption or...?

Khieu Kanarith: They can talk anything.

Theary Seng: Even if the issues are limited and the topics are limited, it's nonetheless a necessary, important, significant first step.

Kate Elliot: It is encouraging the participation of the community in the democratic process.

Theary Seng: This radio station actually is a fundamental important first step in chipping away at the culture of fear, because it allows and encourages people to speak out, and that's fundamental to a democracy.

Ta Rath: They can talk openly and Cambodian people are not scared anymore.