Tharum Bun musings from Cambodia

When Cambodians went to the polls in July this year, social media not only posed a challenge to the traditional mainstream media but also to the country’s status quo.

With its hands holding a tight grip on the country’s traditional media, the Hun Sen government virtually ignored social media, while the main opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), strategically and heavily used the web-based platforms to reach out to young voters and build its support base.

While the elections were marred by irregularities the results also showed that the country’s electorate is yearning for change as shown by the large number of seats won by CNRP at the parliament. It was a reflection of the political mood that was prevalent in various social media outfits prior to the elections.

Election observers describe how social media – primarily Facebook and other online discussion platforms – completely changed the political environment in the country and encouraged the citizens to speak and voice out their opinions online. With social media sites, young voters turn to their smart phones for news, information about the candidates’ platforms, as well as to engage in political debates.

Cambodians shared news stories published by local and international media outlets and generated a substantial volume of online content, including discussions, photos and videos. First-hand reports of violence at polling stations, and political demonstrations were quickly uploaded and played a vital role in keeping the public as well as the mainstream media journalists informed of the latest events during the elections.

In a country of 14 million people where about half of this population is under 21 years old, mobile phone subscribers overtook fixed-line subscribers as early as 1993. The leapfrog effect did not stop. It has contributed to the rise of mobile Internet adoption, which enables owners to communicate, access, and share information.

According to a report by Xinhua News Agency, the country’s six network providers sold 19.1 million SIM cards last year, far exceeding the nation’s population. Meanwhile on the popular networking site Facebook, there are more than 1,140,000 registered users in Cambodia.

Even if internet penetration is still very low in terms of the number of computer and mobile phone owners, many Cambodians have access to information via internet cafes or from their neighbors in the village, who own smart phone devices.

A project partner of Diakonia Cambodia, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) has built its social media presence among the information-hungry Cambodian Internet news consumers. CCIM, through its radio broadcast and online news site, Voice of Democracy (VOD), provides balanced news reports, especially focusing on the plight of the marginalized communities in the country. VOD journalists and citizen journalists have been equipped and trained to master mobile technology for news gathering, reporting, and production.

During a recent protest by the opposition party supporters in Phnom Penh, VOD’s digital journalist Tiang Vida “took photos of the rally and forwarded them to his editor via Facebook along with brief news updates. A few minutes later, his dispatches appeared online,” reported English-language newspaper The Phnom Penh Post.

This remarkable rise in popularity of social media among Cambodians, especially the youth, is seen to help transform the country’s political and media landscape by serving the need for more news and information, and more importantly, by amplifying the voices of Cambodian people.

This blog post was first appeared on Diakonia blog on 2013-10-25.

Thank goodness
it’s fabulously
a fried day

#cambodia #haiku

“We are no longer the all-seeing all-knowing journalists, delivering words from on high for readers to take in, passively, save perhaps an occasional letter to the editor. Digital has wrecked those hierarchies almost overnight, creating a more levelled world, where responses can be instant, where some readers will almost certainly know more about a particular subject than the journalist, where the reader might be better placed to uncover a story.”

As part of my series of ‘Cambodian bloggers on blogging,’ I had a conversation with 26-year-old Ou Ritthy, who has been regarded by Cambodia’s English-language papers as one of the nation’s political bloggers. This is an unedited email interview I recently had with Ritthy, who runs a regular talk, Politikoffee, about Cambodian politics among his circles, independent analysts and Cambodia experts.

For Politikoffee’s Group on Facebook, please visit:

Tharum: When did you start Politikoffee?
Politikoffee was created in late July 2011.

Why Politikoffee?
Having learnt that most of Cambodian youths have spent their time for entertainment, consuming alcohols and paying little attention on sociopolitical situation, the matter of life and death of a nation, Politikoffee was established on July 2011. Politikoffee is a group of young enthusiastic and tech-savvy Cambodians who love discussing socioeconomic, political and democratization situations in Cambodian and region.

Poilitikoffee aims at cultivating “Liberal Democracy” in Cambodia through raising and sharing sociopolitical awareness and promoting culture of discussion and challenge among youths in Cambodia, based on principles of national interest, solidarity and fraternity. Cambodian youths should spend their free time on weekend to come to Politkoffee forum to share and learn with and from each other through discussion, debate and challenge concerning current socioeconomic and political issues of their country.

So far this emerging young generation of Cambodia has energetically discussed and shared information and knowledge every weekend. Having informed and learnt from each other, these youths share and spread political and electoral information like virus on social media especially facebook and twitter. They have done excellent job during National Assembly election 2013; they have become active agents of change and future leaders of Cambodia.

How to keep this conversation about politics over coffee going week after week?
Every Saturday we have either group discussion or media-darling speaker to present and then discuss among all members. We discuss, analyze and predict likely scenarios of political situations. When domestic sociopolitical issue is relatively stable, we discuss ASEAN and world affairs in stead.

On young Cambodians, do you speak out openly? Why?
We do speak our mind openly as the fact that Politikoffee forum is very informally organized by peers group who get to know each well. Therefore everything we say is outspoken, independent, open-minded, amiable and responsible yet challenging and thought-provoking.

How do you want this Politikoffee to play a role in Cambodian politics?
I want to see Politkoffee play vital role in cultivating a new political culture in Cambodia especially among Cambodian youths by changing from perceiving politics as a threat to individuals’ lives to seeing politics as one of the most significant parts of life and future of individuals and nation.

To achieve this, we want to have our own coffee shop named Politikoffee Shop where politics, democracy and coffee lovers can meet up and discuss current political issues. Basically, Politikoffee Shop is designed to function as a one-stop service to provide Cambodian people and foreigners who come to visit, work or live in Cambodia with complete up-to-date socioeconomic, political, electoral, social media and youth situations in Cambodia by just spending one hour discussing and drinking a cup of coffee.

Friends, don’t mind coming to Politikoffee Shop for an hour to drink a cup of coffee and get to know everything about current Cambodian politics and other related issues?

I think this is a good analysis, written by Kay Kimsong, a long-time Cambodian journalist. The author talked to an independent analyst, an opposition leader, two ministers of the government, and private sector representatives.

Sam Rainsy Needs to Get Heavy on the Detail. And Fast.” is another in-depth blog post opined by freelance journalist George Steptoe.

One of my favorite ex-editors, Colin Meyn, also told a terrific tale about “Cambodia Returns to a One-Party State.”

Horribly hurt
beaten dogs
began to bark

#cambodia #haiku