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Asia

Cambodians turn to social media to voice dissent

Since the state controls mainstream media in Cambodia, people in the country turn to social media to express their political opinions. Such media, however, are still in the early stages in the Southeast Asian country.

The mainstream Cambodian media hardly cover dissenting views and anti-government opinions or news about human rights violations in the Southeast Asian country nearly never make it into the press.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's left-leaning Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has been in power in Cambodia since 1979. Cambodian rights activists said the CPP, which was earlier known as the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP), maintains a strong grip on the media.

According to the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, the Cambodian press is not free and has "noticeable problems." However, the organization added, Cambodia ranks better in press freedom than neighboring Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

But social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook are making inroads in this isolated country. Many Cambodian people have started turning to these sites to voice their opinions on political and social issues.

Emerging social media

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Photo: Heng Sinith/AP/dapd

Prime Minister Hun Sen's government does not allow dissent on mainstream media

Kounila Keo, a Cambodian journalist and blogger, told DW that the government's control on the mainstream media had been so strong that dissenting voices were hardly heard. The traditional media, she added, also distorts the news.

"It is the social media which is acting as a watchdog," Keo said

Nguon Teang Pa, Director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, is of the opinion that the traditional Cambodian media is still strong because most Cambodians do not speak English and are not good at the use of social media.

"Most people in Cambodia are poor and illiterate, living in the countryside," said Pa. "They do not have access to the Internet. Even the electricity is scarce."

Despite these problems, Pa said there is an emerging role for social media in Cambodia.

"Social media is indirectly impacting the Cambodian society," Pa said. "Those who use social media in Cambodia are a group of educated people but the information they impart travels to other sections of society."

Media regulation

Chinese rest outside an internet cafe in Beijing Photo: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Cambodian government wants to emulate China in media regulation, say media experts

The Cambodian government is drafting a controversial cybercrime law, which, in Pa's opinion, is aimed at controlling social media.

"Last month, the Cambodian government sent a group of professionals to China to learn how Beijing controls social media. I think the Cambodian government does not have the capacity and the finances to strictly control the alternative media," Pa said.

Cambodia Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told DW that the cybercrime law would not affect the freedom of information in Cambodia.

"The law will only prevent hacking," Phay said. "It is not meant to regulate people's opinions."

Author: Chheng Niem
Editor: Shamil Shams / ss

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