Voice of America's Khmer Service Prepares for 55th Anniversary
Im Sothearith, VOA Khmer
Washington, DC Wednesday, 11 August 2010
“When I listened to VOA, I was hopeful and strived to live. That was a very difficult time, but news from the outside world made me happy" - Ung Bun Heang, aka Sacrava
“I have listened to VOA Khmer since 1970, when Sihanouk was overthrown by a coup d’état, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and I still listen to it now ... I like VOA because it broadcasts the truth. Its news is not biased. I cannot rely on local news because it covers only good things and not the bad, so we don’t know what is going on” - Chhet Sarom, 50, is a listener from Svay Rieng provinceVOA Khmer first went on air on August 15, 1955. Since then, it has sought to play an important role in providing objective, independent news to Cambodians inside and outside of the country.
Ang Khen was recruited to work at VOA Khmer in Washington in 1962. She became VOA Khmer newscaster at the age of 21.
“I am very proud of working for VOA Khmer,” she said in a recent interview. “I had an opportunity to provide Cambodian people with news, especially during the war. Cambodian people listened to news about what happened during the war and what happened in the world. I retired because I felt I had worked for so long, but I am still proud of being a VOA Khmer newscaster.”
Similarly, Tes Saroeum, a former VOA Khmer editor, started working for the service in 1963. He retired in early 2004.
“The goal of the Voice of America is the goal of the US government, which is to promote US foreign policy to the rest of the world,” he said. “America does not want any territories, or to be a super power, but to help poor countries with development and freedom.”
Through VOA Khmer, the Cambodian people know about their rights, how a country is run and social development, he said.
“Working for VOA Khmer was a good opportunity because it not only gave me financial benefit, but it equipped me with knowledge, as it was a place where you needed to do a lot of research on such areas as economics, politics, science, an others,” he said.
Un Bunheang, who is well known as a political cartoon artist, lives in Australia and has been listening to VOA since 1968.
“So far, I still listen to VOA because I believe that VOA is still a radio broadcaster that provides the most accurate news, unbiased, and its news is good, especially international news,” he said. “I love the news and praise reporters for giving us the most accurate news.”
Un Bunheang recalls his experience listening to VOA Khmer during Khmer Rouge regime, when he lived in Peareang district, Prey Veng Province.
“I was happy because I covered myself with a blanket in order to listen to VOA every night,” he said. “When I listened to VOA, I was hopeful and strived to live. That was a very difficult time, but news from the outside world made me happy."
He heard news of a US ship seized by the Khmer Rouge, and of a plane bombing in Siem Reap province after the regime took power.
“Once during Khmer Rouge regime, after I had come back from working in the field, that night I listened to VOA news about the Olympic Games held in Montreal, Canada, in 1976,” he said.
“When I heard the news I was so happy and dreamed about it that night. Listening to VOA news about sportsmen and sportswomen from around the world gathered together made me so happy. Unfortunately, the Cambodian people were in hell, but I dreamed about the sports events that night. But when I got up, I was not in the free world but a communist country.”
Another loyal listener is Sang Bopha from Battambang.
“Now it is called VOA, but before it was called 'Post Americ' (American channel),” Sang Bopha said. “I liked listening to VOA because it is important for our society. I listened to it with my father, who was a soldier, and I knew that it gave true news to him.”
Chhet Sarom, 50, is a listener from Svay Rieng province.
“I have listened to VOA Khmer since 1970, when Sihanouk was overthrown by a coup d’état, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and I still listen to it now,” he said. “I like VOA because it broadcasts the truth. Its news is not biased. I cannot rely on local news because it covers only good things and not the bad, so we don’t know what is going on.”
In addition, he said VOA was a source of informal education for listeners who have limited knowledge.
“It’s good that VOA provides local news and international news and also various programs, such as health and law,” he said. “Health programing is good for Cambodian people who do not have much knowledge because of wars and could not access education. People know little by little about law and health issues, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis epidemics.”
Cheam Yiep, a National Assembly lawmaker for the Cambodian People's Party, called VOA Khmer “an important watchdog, broadcasting the lawmaking processes of both the National Assembly and the Senate.”
“Sometimes people are not aware of those laws, but because they like listening to VOA they know about them,” he said.
However, he said, often it is opposition parties with more opportunity over VOA Khmer, which can “irritate” some people. While some CPP officials often decline to comment for VOA Khmer reports, Cheam Yeip said answering a reporter's questions provides an opportunity for opinions to come out and the truth be told.
“I would like to assure all members of parliament, senators, as well as government officials that answering reporters’ questions is crucial,” he said.
Kem Sokha, president of the minority opposition Human Rights Party, said VOA Khmer provides balanced news, where most local news outlets, especially in radio and TV, lean toward the government.
“Voice of America first of all gives an opportunity to democracy practitioners to voice their concerns,” he said. “Secondly, people receive world news so that they know about the world’s political situation; and thirdly, through VOA Khmer the Cambodian people have an opportunity to directly talk to politicians and civil society representatives.”
Mam Sambath, chairman of Cambodians for Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, said VOA reflects what is happening in Cambodia.
“It not only broadcasts the negative aspects of Cambodia, but also its progress,” he said. “It also addresses challenges faced by communities and their concerns about important issues, such as natural resource management, good governance and Cambodia's political evolution. These give Cambodian people knowledge about health care, lifestyle, and freedom, which are badly needed in Cambodia.”
VOA Khmer is one of the 45 language services of the Voice of America, which first went on air in 1942 and now has an estimated worldwide audience of 125 million people.
According to InterMedia report issued in January, VOA Khmer annually reaches 36 percent of Cambodia's total population.
VOA Khmer broadcasts 90 minutes per day. In the morning it can be heard from 5 am to 5:30 am and in the evening from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Its programs are rebroadcast by affiliates at Beehive FM 105, WMC Radio FM 102 and Angkor Ratha Siem Reap FM 95.5. It now has TV stories broadcast on TVK and CTN.
In addition, VOA Khmer news can be found on its website, www.voacambodia.com, Youtube at VOA Khmer Service, Facebook at VOA Khmer, Twitter at VOAKhmerEn and via the social network AngkorOne.