Week 530 – Sunday,2007-10-21: Being United – Not Divided, Not “False and Unreliable”

Posted on 21 October 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 530 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 530

The rule of law, the interplay between different political powers, and the economic situation of the majority of the population are always a major concern when reflecting the dynamics of another week. But these have also some very personal aspects – what one person thinks or says or does or suffers. This week we had an opportunity to observe some such cases. They are quite varied in context, but every one presents a challenge to think what such personal cases mean for the whole of society. It is persons who are behind what happens in society.

The American Ambassador acted as an election registration observer. He did not just receive reports in the embassy – he went himself to an office doing voter registrations to ask questions and to see how things are being handled. Though it can be assumed that this action was planned elaborately and therefore was perhaps not a random spot check as may happen during election day, it still demonstrates active international concern for high-standard elections. – The US ambassador is not the first person from the international public to act as an election observer. It may be remembered that Mr. Xanana Gusmão, the East Timorese independence leader, participated in 2002 in the international election observer team in Cambodia, shortly before he was elected president of East Timor; he is now prime minister there. – It is hoped that such personal participation will result in giving “outside” election observing additional weight and in ensuring that the whole story of the election process is told.

It is reported that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng offered a rare glimpse into his private daily life, by publicly sharing his recollection of a meeting between himself and the president of Radio Free Asia, where he said, “I consider Radio Free Asia to be my breakfast.” He added that if he fails to read newspapers and listen to the radio in the morning, it seems that he missed his breakfast. – It is encouraging to know about such a statement, which shows the importance of the media not only for the broad public, but also for high level political leadership. And it is good to know that the “breakfast” is an international one, even if he had to add, “I would like to request Radio Free Asia to broadcast true reports, not false and unreliable ones.” – Every responsible journalist will fully agree that reports have to be true and not misleading. And the facts presented should not only be true, but also invite to reflect on them, to take them as a challenge to think about their implications for our common life in society.

A seminar held by the Club of Cambodian Journalists in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation highlighted a problem which other foreign observers have also noted with utter surprise or bewilderment: that Cambodia has 15 journalists’ associations. In contrast, for example, Germany has only two, in spite of a much bigger population, more publications, a huge number of journalists, and vast economic resources. Why do the organizers and leaders of the many journalists’ associations in Cambodia choose not to cooperate, but rather to spend their scarce resources and their energy to create and maintain many different more or less weak parallel structures? And by doing so, to forfeit the possibility to have a stronger united voice in their task to fulfill the role of “the fourth estate” in society? It should be the role of this “fourth estate” to represent the different positions they can collect from the voices of the public, and thus help the public to interact with the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. But they cannot do this effectively when they are weak and divided.

Similarly, Cambodia has many more political parties than other countries with much larger populations. Most of the respected international observers of Cambodian affairs did not think that to have 36 or 23 political parties participating in the 1993 and 1998 elections – most of them receiving less than 1% of the votes – was a sign of a strong developing democracy. Instead, most considered it evidence of a lack of ability to cooperate for the common good of society, and a sign that many self-styled leaders put personal benefit higher than really improving society.
The preference to set up a separate structure under one’s own personal leadership, rather than to cooperate with others in larger structures, is an obstacle to creating big strong institutions in many arenas besides journalism and political parties, and thus an obstacle to achieving goals. Another obstacle is a reluctance to be open to public scrutiny, to subject oneself openly and rigorously to the expectations which are proposed to the Radio Free Asia – that whatever is said must not be “not false and unreliable.” Reliability depends also on rationality, consistency, and acknowledging the full context of facts, even if they are inconvenient.

For example, it is important that election observers cite problems in the preparation and execution of elections – but it is intellectually dishonest to not also acknowledge that the present government received a wide majority of the electoral support in recent elections.

In another example, this week a newspaper cites “the downfall of the Pol Pot regime,” as if it fell down by itself, without acknowledging the persons and the neighboring countries who made efforts and sacrifices for this to happen. They also seem to agree with the opinion of a university student that “generally relations – it does not matter with which country – have always benefits because now we enter an era of globalization” – and that one “always wants good relations with other countries, especially with neighboring countries” – but then blames most problems on neighboring countries and the national leaders who cooperate with them.

In yet another example, an article this week again included complaints that there are Vietnamese sex workers in Cambodia, and that they “impact on Khmer traditions.” The fact that Vietnamese women are only a minority among sex workers in Cambodia, and that most sex workers are Cambodian, was not mentioned, even though this has been established by rigorous research several times. Nor was it mentioned that there have never been any reports that the Cambodian males who visit Vietnamese sex workers have been forced to do so.

Of course, nobody will claim that international relations, especially between a stronger and a weaker nation, are without problems. But it is “false and unreliable” to only use the convenient part of a story to support one’s position. Interestingly, the newspaper articles reporting doubts about friendship with a neighboring country were voiced at the same time that unexpectedly large crowds of Cambodian people visited the Vietnamese Goods Trade Fair, held from 13 to 17 October 2007 in the Mondial Center in Phnom Penh.

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One Response to “Week 530 – Sunday,2007-10-21: Being United – Not Divided, Not “False and Unreliable””

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‘Nec pluribus impar’ – No unequal match for many – or alone I can withstand many – the motto of the Sun King Louis XIV of France, yes he was able to lead his country alone and yes he did subjugate the nobles, but how many kings can one country have? It seams anyone and everyone has forgotten that the strategy of “I” only plays into the hands of the establishment, and that the establishment will be more then happy to entertain a dived opposition. Many voices speaking at once and not telling the same story; are – after all – just noise – and noise is something people try to avoid. Try getting a story across in this climate!

‘Non soli cedit’ – not even for the sun will I budge – I am sure is the motto of all the others


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