Business reporter and Battambang native Chan Muyhong has made a mark on the Kingdom’s media scene from a young age. Trained at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, she has worked as an intern for Agence France-Presse, an assistant producer at Apsara News Network and a reporter at The Phnom Penh Post. Writer Joanna Mayhew speaks with the 25-year-old about journalism in Cambodia. Photography by Lucas Veuve.
When did you first become interested in media?
When we [lived] in the provinces, every morning at 5.30 my dad would turn the radio on and we would hear, “This is VOA, Voice of America.” My father is a news consumer – he likes to read newspapers, watch the news – so I had some influence from that. I started to enjoy writing in [university]. During class, one of my lecturers always recalled when he was a reporter, and how he could convince the Khmer Rouge to talk to him when the situation was so dangerous. I was inspired by what he told me – like, that’s a cool job; I can go places normal people wouldn’t be able to.
What is most rewarding about the work?
The most rewarding part [at] The Post was when I covered stories that really made an impact. The first achievement was I got a scoop about the Boeung Kak land deal. There were a lot of reactions from people who live in the area, [and] from the company involved in the deal. The company decided they would not buy the land. The other was about the Areng dam. [The authorities] said I made up this story. I felt nervous, but my editor told me it’s a badge of honour. When journalists get this reaction, it means they’ve done a good job, so I start to take things positively. Every day coming to work, even if it’s stressful, I know I’m doing something that has an impact on society or someone’s life.
Why business reporting?
There are not many journalists in Cambodia who do business reporting; most are reporting on human rights and political issues. It’s not a bad thing, but you need positive reporting about the development of the country. I want to focus on business reporting because I can say more of the good stuff, and also raise concerns. We are also going to be integrated in the Asean Economic Community, so there’s a lot to report about. Cambodia’s economy is really growing; it’s going to be exciting.
What’s tough about being a journalist here?
One thing I know applies to everyone is to get information from the government. I’m not sure why the government has to be so closed. There’s a misunderstanding that journalists only want to attack them. Our job is to work for the public, but we’re not against the government. If they do not give us information, the public will always misunderstand.
What are the advantages, as a female Khmer journalist?
I feel being female I can get access easier than male reporters. I remember I was late for a conference with the prime minister. He had already started his speech, and his guard stopped me. I said sorry, and he said go ahead. Usually you will not be allowed to get in like that, after the prime minister. I think because I’m female, people do not treat me very harshly. Another advantage is you can make better contact with sources. By being a female, it makes it easier.
Are you outnumbered?
I am, because the job is so tough it makes less women want to go into it. You have to be ready to suffer – working long hours, not
having regular meals. Sometimes I leave the office at 9pm. If we talk about Cambodian culture, going home late, it’s not good. I used to have a curfew at 7pm for my family. It’s started to change. More females are now capable enough, but we are still the minority.
Why have you stayed?
Because it’s a tough job. I’ve been doing easy jobs along the way, and I don’t feel myself grow. I can earn enough, but I don’t feel I’m having any impact. That’s why I stick to the job. I feel I have grown, personally and intellectually. I’ve gained so much confidence. When I’m with a source, I can discuss big issues in the country.
How is the local media scene changing?
Reporters are becoming more professional. People now produce balanced news. The demand is driving this. Now we have Facebook, so people get news from many perspectives. It’s so different from the past 10 years. For local newspapers at that time, you only see news about crime, rape and traffic accidents. There’s still that news, [but] there is professional news coming up.
You’ve recently resigned. Why?
I got a scholarship to go to Poland, to pursue a master’s degree. I’m going to research public confidence in local TV news. Most TV stations here are politically affiliated. I want to see changes in broadcasting, because not so many Cambodians read newspapers and every house has a TV. If we can produce better news on TV, we can see a quick change in development. I still want to work in journalism after I come back, maybe as a news producer. As long as I’m involved in the newsroom, I can do anything.