Models of media encouragement in the developing world: How Cambodia offers an example and a warning
The 2008 national elections in Cambodia offered a fourth chance to assess the progress of the international community’s rebuilding project that has been engaged in the country since the disastrous Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent Vietnamese occupation (1979-91). Chief among the failures, as outlined by numerous international observers, including teams from the US and the EU, was that the media had failed to keep the electorate fully informed in a balanced and fair manner in the pre-election period. This study will explore three crucial elements of how and why this failure could happen in a country in which the most modern thinking on media development theory has been in full effect for the past 20 years. In 1991, the mandate of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) included ‘Ensuring Free Access to the Media....for All Political Parties Contesting In the Election (section D “Elections”, paragraph 3[F]). To supplement these constitutional efforts, many international and western aid organisations have been involved in media development projects in the country. Cambodia was the only communist country in East and South East Asia to change its form of government at the end of the Cold War (Clarke, 2005). The media development measures introduced mirror those used in Eastern and South Eastern Europe, with the emphasis on western-style concepts of journalism and media freedom. For almost 20 years, among other initiatives, this model has sought to effect change through short term training programmes for existing journalists. This research is intended to explore why and to what extent this approach, in the case of Cambodia, appears to have failed. My research will examine the specific measures applied in Cambodia and the extent to which they have had an impact. It will examine the validity of the western model of journalism theory and journalism practice used and the possibility of building a more inclusive concept that is both valid for journalism and adaptable to countries where cultural and material differences from Western norms are very great. My study will include a comprehensive and critical review of the literature relating to the media in Cambodia, in transitional and emerging democracies, and to ‘development’ models of journalism in the developing world. It will be followed by an assessment of the media guidelines established by UNTAC and by a detailed account of current media provision in Cambodia and their effectiveness. Fieldwork will include on-the-ground interviews, surveys of a representative sample of journalists and NGOs in Cambodia, and their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current media climate.