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Fewer Young Journalists Mean Thinning Ranks

Cambodian journalists gathered at a media conference in Cambodia, file photo.
Cambodian journalists gathered at a media conference in Cambodia, file photo.

While there are fewer reports of physical attacks on journalists in recent years, Cambodia’s media environment has recently lost several senior reporters to natural causes.

These veteran journalists have taken with them the institutional knowledge about the country and its politics that take years to build. These losses are worrying in an environment that is already under pressure, said Pen Samithy, president of the Cambodian Club of Journalists, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday.

Last week, two journalists, Or Phirith, 60, a senior reporter for Radio Free Asia, and Lay Sokhom, 49, of the Kampuchea Thmey newspaper, both passed away.

Or Phirith died of natural causes, Lay Sokhom after suffering a traffic accident two months ago.

The two deaths came shortly after the death of Reach Sambath, a veteran reporter, teacher and spokesman for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, in May.

“These are big losses for us,” Pen Samithy said.

The loss of such reporters comes with declining interest in the younger generations to pursue journalism, he said.

While there are some institutions that provide training and workshops to working journalists, Pen Samithy said, there are a low number of graduates coming out of school, especially compared to the numbers who seek public relations jobs in companies, NGOs, embassies or television.

At least eight journalists in Cambodia have been killed with confirmed motives since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Of those, nearly a third were covering corruption. The last one, Khem Sambor, was murdered just weeks ahead of the last national elections in 2008.

Even so, journalists today face the threat of long jail terms under a much-criticized criminal defamation law, making the prospects for a new graduate considering journalism less attractive.

However, Pen Samithy said professional can protect journalists from harm.

“Once our reporting is accurate, we’re not worried,” he said.