A simple dream I had last night

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Let’s nurture a free press in Cambodia. It might start locally at Savong’s School.

 

I’m getting excited, now, about my impending journey to Cambodia. This last week I’ve had good conversations with Savong, but also a skype call with one of the students Kadeb whom I really look forward to seeing again. He has one of those smiles that light up any room, and I’m dying to see him after almost two and a half years.

I’ve also been wondering what I’d like to bring the classrooms I meet at Savong’s School. I’d like to introduce something new; something which leaves an ongoing impact. This morning I woke up with answer.

Since the Cambodian elections which rocked the sitting government by demonstrating the widespread distrust with which they are held by the public, there has been a lot of discussion about the role of a free press in Cambodia. I think the Phnom Penh Post do a great job of bringing in-depth and searching stories to public light, and I praise the role of the widely listened to Voice of America broadcasts which have a wide following and – in contrast to their work during the 1960s when Nixon and Kissinger were treating SE Asia with such disdain –  they are working hard to bring balanced but searching news coverage as well. They are trustworthy, whereas the National Television news service acts more like the voice of the party in power. It pulled coverage of mass demonstrations for example, because such stories would have been ‘biased against the government.’  So according to TV 50,000 Cambodians did not turn up at a recent protest – while the rest of Cambodian knew about it anyway.

The free press. Where do students consider the role of such a thing, and how do students get to practice their interests in such a vehicle? This morning I woke up with a simple idea: to start a school newspaper at Savong’s School.

Now disclaimer. I used to edit a school newspaper when I was at high school, and it was never much of a crusading voice under my helm. Later at University I got involved with the student newspaper “Nexus” and learned a number of good lessons including a basic tenet: the truth is no defense in a  libel case. We pilloried, and rightly so, a history professor. He sued.

But later again I ended up freelance writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, and contributed articles more recently to magazines as diverse as Auckland Metro, Management, Renovate, Hospitality and a host of others. Writing has been a core interest of mine since high school and those early pieces I used to so earnestly write.

So a school newspaper. That’s what I’d like to begin. Through such a medium local students may experience the joy of seeing their names in print; the agony of seeing their typos light up the sky with shame, and may consider the debates about whether an article is fair, is true, is worthwhile: three quite different things. I can’t predict what the outcome will be, but I do hope that just as I saw a colleague editor of Nexus pursue a career in journalism that has led him to the BBC Foreign News Service (Tip of the hat to Paul Clark) so too, one day, I’d love to see a student or two from Savong’s School in time doing what good journalists do: helping society by illuminating its stories, both good and bad.

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