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Cambodian Newspaper Project: I - J

A collection of Cambodian newspapers in the 1990s, a transition period when Cambodia emerged from a communist to a liberal democratic state. A historical collection that can tell so many stories Cambodia experienced during this transition period.

Independent Khmer* / Khmaer Ekarājy / ខ្មែរឯករាជ្យ

Independent Khmer was one of the oldest Khmer language newspapers in Cambodia. It was first published in 1967 and survived through the Lon Nol’s regime (1970-1975), but was absent in the subsequent regimes. However, the paper was republished in July 1993 under a new leadership. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the paper were headed and owned by Sim Var. It was noted that the paper was highly critical and anti-Sihanouk and the left-wing in the late 1960s. Two critical events were noted during that time. The first event happened when the newspaper office and a printing press was stormed in and destroyed by a group of pro-Sihanouk rioters. Another event was that Sim Var was faced a libel suit filed by Sihanouk after this paper accused Khek Vandy, director of a state firm, of corruption. After Sihanouk’s government was overthrown, the paper editorial line was thrown behind the Lon Nol government.

 

It is also important to note that Sim Var was recognized as one of the pioneers in the Khmer media. He, Pach Chheun and Son Ngoc Thant established Nargar Vatta (Norkor Wat), which was the first Khmer language newspaper in 1939. In 1942, Nargar Vatta was closed down by the French in accuse of ultra-nationalist. The three founders were arrested but Sim Var was released with an intervention from the King. In 1946, he formed a Democratic Party and won 50 of the 67 seats of the national assembly during the election administered by the French. Then, Sim Var was named a Vice-president to the national assembly. In early 1947, he and 16 members of Democratic Party were arrested by the French as they were accused of playing role in a pro-Japanese group – Black Starts. In 1952, he was appointed as a Minister of Information by the Sihanouk’s government. In 1955, Sim Var was appointed as Prime Minister during Sihanouk’s absence. In the 1966 election, Sim Var won a seat to a new assembly that voted Lon Nol in as a Prime Minister. Since then the real fight between him and Sihanouk began. During the Lon Nol’s government, Sim Var was appointed as an ambassador to Japan. It was believed that Sim Var also involved in the coup overthrown Sihanouk. When the Khmer Republic collapsed in 1975, Sim Var took refuge in Paris where he died at age 83 in October 1989.

 

The second birth of Independent Khmer was headed by Pin Somkhon who was also the head of the Khmer Journalists Association (KJA) formed in December 1993. A survey conducted by Clarke in 1995 shows the paper printed both weekly and semi-weekly with a very small circulation of 286. The survey also explains that Samkhon and his editors were inexperience in journalism, but went in the field for political reason as they stood for Democratic Party. According to those issues held by Yale University Library, it was very much the same as other local Khmer language newspaper, the paper provided coverage for mainly local political and social news. However, the political news was outweighing. It was not clear about its political affiliation and no source has confirmed on this either. However, it is important to point out that KJA was split later due to political reasons. Samkhon was accused of aligning with FUNCIPEC and fled the country when the coup took place in July 1997. Later he joined the Radio for Free Asia where he was in charge of the Khmer language program.

Intervention News / Qantarāgamn ̊/ អន្តរាគមន៍

Intervention News was a bi-weekly newspaper. Yale University holds only four issues of the paper from 3 to 6 that were published in September 1993. According to the information stated on the paper itself the paper was sold at 400 Riel per copy. No information about its circulation was found during this research. It is believed that the paper ceased publication sometime in the 1990s but no source has confirmed when exactly it was. It is also worthwhile mentioning that the paper is not also seen in current list by the Ministry of Information posted on its website (February, 2012).

 

Like many other local Khmer language newspapers, Intervention News provided coverage for local news only. The features of the paper included the editorial comment, news reports, cartoons and a literary section that provided two novels and a poem. There was no source confirmed on the political affiliation of the paper, but it was known that the paper often openly criticized those inactive and ineffective government officials as well as the negativity of the government including the co-prime ministers. For example, in early 1994 the paper ran articles accused FUNCIPEC and Cambodian People’s Party politicians and military generals of corruption. Because of this report, on March 1994 the newspaper office was attacked by grenade thrown by two unidentified men. The attack injured five people including two reporters. Because of the attack, the publisher received a sympathy letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen enclosed with US$400 in cash.

 

On June 11, 1994 the paper editor, Chhom Monkol, died of head injury a day after police found him lying unconscious on Monivong Boulevard in central Phnom Penh. The report by police concluded that he died of traffic accident, but the human rights organizations rejected this report because they found no signs of injury on his body while his motorbike was also not damaged at all. It was strongly believed he died because of his courage in reporting corruption committed by the government and military officials.

Justice* / Yuttidhamr / យុត្តិធម៌

According to those early issues available at Yale University Library, the third issue of the paper was published on September 2, 1993. The paper itself stated that its circulation was 5,000 copies and sold at 500 Riel per copy. Those available issues also show that the publisher and editor-in-chief of the paper had been changed over time. In the early issues, Prom Say, a media prominent in the 1960s & 1970s, was a political director of the paper while You Bo was listed as a publisher. However, from issues 6 to 15 only You Bo was listed and from issue 16 to 36 the paper publisher was changed from You Bo to Vong Saroeun. The subsequent issues provide a list of newspaper staff including Vong Sopheak as an editor-in-chief of the paper.  It is worthwhile mentioning that the paper is not listed in the list of media organization posted on the Ministry of Information (February, 2012). This certainly indicates that the paper is no longer in operations. However, when exactly the paper ceased is unknown.

 

The available issues of the paper also show that the paper provided coverage for only local news that was pretty heavily filled with opinion based report on social and political issues. The analysis and commentary articles were often highly critical of the public figures and the government. The tone of the paper was not only anti-government and the ruling parties, but also voiced strongly against Vietnamese migrants and the Vietnamese government. In addition to its critical political reports and analysis, the paper also used its irregular cartoons to voice its editorial line. In a similar style to other local Khmer language papers, Justice also featured an entertainment section with a novel fiction and a poem for its readers. Another interesting note from the paper was its coverage provided for Long Bora, PhD in Internal Law, and was also a lawyer in every issue. There was no reliable source confirming this connection found during the research, but what was interesting to note was an explanation by the Morning News in its issue 112 printed on 30-31 August 1995 stated that Mohamed Bora, well-known as Long Bora, was the publisher of Justice. The article also continued that Bora was a former president of the Cambodian Liberal Independent Democratic Party.  

 

There was no source found during the research confirming the political affiliation of the paper, but according to those available issues show that the paper was highly critical of the government and the ruling parties, but its tone was soft toward the royalist and the King. However, if what was explained by the Morning News was true, it was very likely that the Justice was a political mouthpiece of the Cambodian Liberal Independent Democratic Party.  It is important to point out here that most local Khmer language newspapers were politically affiliated and dependent on the financial support from the party to survive.