Cambodia: Youths making their voices heard | Asia | DW | 15.02.2016
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Cambodia: Youths making their voices heard

Young Cambodians who want to take part in the public discussion require some basic media skills. DW Akademie now supports a Cambodian youth organization in teaching these skills.

The media project offers skills for communicating professionally on the web (photo: DW/T. Karg)

The media project offers skills for communicating professionally on the web

Three cards are pinned up on the board in the classroom. One card says "Information", the second says "Opinion", and the third "News". Participants in a three-day workshop in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, are discussing how these three terms overlap and how they differ. They are looking at how a piece of information can become news, the criteria journalists apply to determine what is news, and how to structure a news story. Two DW Akademie trainers are guiding the discussion, and one of them is a specialist in media literacy.

This is the first time that the Cambodian participants of this workshop have discussed media messages and their impact so thoroughly. None of them are media professionals. They all work for the Youth Resource and Development Program (YRDP), Cambodia's oldest youth organization. YRDP offers Cambodian youths workshops on personal development, teaching useful life skills. The organization also offers classes dealing with the country's tragic Khmer Rouge past, a topic that Cambodian schools barely address. This year, the youth organization is adding "media literacy" to its portfolio. It's realized that it is essential for the country's younger generation to learn how to use and interact with the media available to them.

Looking at the impact of media (photo: DW/T. Karg)

Looking at the impact of media

Working with young people is especially important in Cambodia. The country has the youngest population in all of Southeast Asia, with two thirds of Cambodians under the age 0f 30. Wherever you have this many young people, smartphones and other modern communications technologies are a part of daily life. Last year alone the number of active internet users in Cambodia quadrupled, and every year since 2012 the number of active social media users has doubled. Today, some three million of the country’s total 15.7 million citizens have a Facebook profile.

In Cambodia, Facebook is the internet

Facebook plays a crucial role in Cambodia. It a relatively independent medium for information and communication in a country where radio, TV and newspapers are often in the hands of state officials or people with close ties to the government. Facebook and the internet offer Cambodians a platform to freely take part in public debates. Youths are especially taking advantage of this. For them, Facebook is a forum where they can address their issues. On Facebook, they can tell their stories with text, photos and video - stories that rarely appear in traditional media.

Although the number of Facebook and smartphone users is rapidly increasing in Cambodia, awareness about the possible risks and disadvantages of new communication technologies isn't growing at the same speed. Only very few young Cambodians know how to protect their own privacy on the internet or why this is even important. Issues such as "sexting" (communicating privately about sex or sending sexually explicit photos) or cyber-mobbing are only slowing being recognized as problems. This is where media literacy training plays an important role.

Learning about media literacy, playfully

Creating an awareness of these issues and promoting media skills among youths so they can openly express their views, has long been a focus of DW Akademie's media literacy activities in Cambodia. So far, these activities have two strands: on the one hand, DW Akademie works with Cambodia's Ministry of Education, on the other it cooperates with NGOs. DW Akademie has assisted the Education Ministry in writing chapters on media literacy for a school textbook. This 12th-grade textbook will be introduced into classrooms across the country this year. At the grassroots level, DW Akademie works together with two Cambodian NGOs, CCIM and MEDIA One. They offer media literacy training to youths in two rural provinces. The trainers for these workshops in the country are themselves young Cambodians, who have been trained by DW Akademie. These two tracks of DW Akademie activities in Cambodia will now be flanked by YRDP’s media literacy trainings.

YRDP members as graduates of the DW Akademie workshop on media literacy (photo: DW/T. Karg)

YRDP members as graduates of the DW Akademie workshop on media literacy

One thing that will help YRDP start out in this new field is DW Akademie's extensive assortment of media literacy training materials, which it developed over the past two years. Some 160 pages - equivalent to 200 pages in the Khmer language - cover everything from basic media concepts to full-fledged training sessions complete with detailed lesson plans. There are also a variety of media-related exercises and games that can make learning about media fun and interesting for a young audience.

Back at the DW Akademie workshop, YDRP participants start to play one of these games, called "Media Machine". Together with the DW Akademie trainers they identify the number of people and steps involved in the news process before news about an event finally reaches its audience. These include the reporter who interviews eye-witnesses and writes the story, the editor-in-chief who edits the text, the photo journalist who supplies the photos, the layout person and many more. Each participant is then assigned a role and comes up with a characteristic gesture and sound for his or her part. When everyone knows their part, the scenes are linked together and the "media machine" gets underway. This complex sequence of events makes participants aware of just how many factors can influence the final news product.

A video of this role-play is available on

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