The Voice of America's Khmer service has been on the air for 55 years, providing news to Cambodians around the world and maintaining a mission of timely, objective news.
At the same time VOA Khmer is developing its programming to keep up with new technology and expanding from radio into television and the Internet. Coverage of Cambodia itself is also increasing.
“VOA does its best to bring objective, neutral and professional coverage both about issues from Cambodia and all other issues from around the world,” Chris Decherd, VOA Khmer's service chief, said in an interview. “And we believe in giving quality information and analysis to our listeners so they can be informed and make decisions about their own lives, their own freedoms, their dreams and their goals, based on solid factual reporting.”
The service hopes to contribute to public debate, Decherd said, on issues ranging from human rights to democracy, the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the economy and regional and global issues.
VOA Khmer has emphasized different coverage according to the times.
“Our program changed a lot due to the war in Vietnam,” said Ker Yann, VOA Khmer's senior editor, who joined the service in 1970 at a time when the US lent its full support to Phnom Penh. “News on the Vietnam war would be our top stories almost every day, and news on Cambodia came only when there was an incident in the country which related to battles in Cambodia and related to the war.”
At its headquarters in Washington, VOA has a central newsroom responsible for gathering news from around the world. Staff there write and edit reports in English before distributing them to more than 40 language services for translation and broadcast. In the past, VOA Khmer relied much on central news.
“We played merely a translating role,” said Ker Yann. “There were not many reports covered by each service. We translated whatever the central newsroom sent us. Nowadays, we have more freedom. They allow us to do our own original reports from each service.”
Often VOA is perceived as the US government’s mouthpiece, but in principal and practice VOA covers all angles of the news, regardless of political tendencies.
VOA’s charter, signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976, clearly defines VOA as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news that provides accurate, objective and comprehensive coverage.
The charter requires VOA to represent America, not any single segment of American society, and therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
The charter requires that VOA present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively and also promote responsible discussions and opinions on these policies.
Even in a time of international conflict where the US is involved, VOA covers the news just as other professional media outlets.
“As a news organization we should not take any side,” said Jing Zhang, acting director for VOA's East Asia and the Pacific division. “We do not defend US policy. We do not side with any government or any organization. Our charge is to report news as it is. For example, we also report many of the debates in the United States about what US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan should be, and those debates include much opposition towards the continued US involvement in Afghanistan. We report where the US government’s stand is on this issue; we also report opposition to US policy on this issue.”
Today VOA is a multimedia broadcasting service. VOA Khmer broadcasts through its medium and shortwave frequencies with two shows a day. Through cooperation with local affiliates in Cambodia, its programs are repeated via the Women Media Center’s at FM 102, Beehive FM 105, and Angkor Ratha FM 95.5 in Siem Reap. Its TV program is shown on state-run TVK and CTN. All programs are kept online at www.voacambodia.com and can be found on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and social network AngkorOne.
VOA Khmer first came on air on August 15, 1955, but the program was put on hiatus after a few months. It returned in 1962. It now works with experienced reporters in Cambodia who give updated reports on news events from the country and a team in Washington that is charged with preparing the daily program and contributing original reports. All VOA Khmer reports must be based on at least two or three sources to ensure they cover all parties involved.
The programs focus on politics, the economy, health, the environment, religion, education, social issues and history.
“That’s part of our mission and mandate from the US Congress, to cover news of the world and news of the US, as well as news about Cambodia,” Decherd said. “That’s part of our fundamental mission. We believe that the world is interconnected and that it's valuable news and information.”
One third of the service's programming focuses on world news, another third on US news, and the rest on Cambodia.
“I give priority to news related to Cambodia, although it may not be on the list for the lineup, because our listeners pay much attention to Cambodian news,” said Chhim Sumedh, a veteran newscaster who joined the service in 1986.
VOA also pays attention to quality of its sound in its production.
“Since VOA broadcasts live, in the production of each of our programs, the producer will have to get in close contact with the editor, with broadcasters, and with our correspondents in Cambodia,” said Nuch Sarita, a longtime producer. “We pay close attention to sound quality, so in addition to the ability to report, translate and present news, each staff member needs to have a strong voice.”
VOA Khmer also allows its audience to interact with politicians, government officials, NGO officials, and experts in different fields.