KI-Media began its operation in early 2000s as an email list-serve meant to distribute sensitive news and information related to Cambodian politics. Their first blog in 2005 was video of an interview with Chhay Vee detailing the 1997 grenade attack on SRP supporters in Phnom Penh. The blog now reuses contents from a wide range of sources without linking to the original sites, but rarely breaks their own unique stories.
Despite the fact that it has become one of the most read blogs among Cambodians and expatriates interested in the nation’s affairs, its content and sourcing have become one of the major setbacks in how citizen media is perceived in Cambodia. Its popularity may reflect public satisfaction with the site; however its role in centralizing Cambodia-related news and information needs to be questioned.
Rather than being a non-partisan aggregator of breaking news and an unbiased outlet for whistle blowers, like Wikileaks, the controversial yet highly successful site that substantiates and publishes highly sensitive documents, KI-Media is instead allowing itself to take on the identity of an opposition website.
People like Norbert Klein, who is the editor of the Cambodian Mirror and a long-time partner in the development of the Internet in Cambodia, are frustrated by the state of KI-Media. He wrote in an email that “un-civil statements, full of personal attacks, using horrendous profanity, combined with ethnic and racial slurs” that are being posted on the site make him feel “ashamed.”
In a letter to readers, KI-Media’s founder said that he hoped to create a “Twitter-like service dedicated to news from Cambodia, at a time when the Twitter concept did not exist yet.” But now Twitter does exist and so do personalized aggregators like Google news alerts, which allow people to collect the day’s news about Cambodia, or anything else, without the assistance of a site like KI-Media. If they really want to have an impact on the Kingdom, and stop relying on other publications for their content, KI-Media should go back to their roots and find ways to break stories and information that isn’t already in the public domain.
In another email I received, a Cambodian human rights activist who prefers not to be named explained that KI-Media is still one of her first stops when searching for current news on the Kingdom, but also expressed concern that KI-Media has a “tendency towards the opposition,” and the site has not “taken enough measures to ensure its professionalism.” In their recent letter to readers, KI-Media boasts that they have posted 36,133 articles, an impressive number, especially in Cambodia, but numbers are not enough. If the sites staffers really want to put their reportedly tireless work to good use (the aforementioned letter claims that “One team member is even facing marriage breakup because of his dedication to maintaining the KI-Media website”), they need to hold themselves to higher standards.
According to their site “KI-Media loves to hear from you, and we’re giving you a bullhorn.” There is great value in allowing public conversations to centre around your content, but KI-Media is no longer unique for this feature. There are thousands of conversations happening between Cambodians on Facebook and AngkorOne as well as competing news outlets and blogs.
Copying stories critical of the government, and allowing angry people to use those stories as a sounding board for their frustrations, is one road that KI-Media can take. I would propose, however, that they push themselves to be an outlet for unique information, like the video that got the site started, and play the role that only an anonymous website can play in a country ranked 117 on the world’s press freedom index.
At the end of their recent letter, the site says that “the truth shall set us free”. It can be hard to report the truth in Cambodia, but KI-Media has the unique ability to do it, and it needs to do it better.
How well do you think Cambodia has dealt with the difficulties of moving on from the Khmer Rouge. Share your ideas with Kounila at angkorone.com/lift.