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Thmey Thmey at the forefront of the Cambodian media
September 6, 2018
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One day in my media organisation is a series of weekly reports illustrating the daily lives of people who work in media organisations across Africa, the Arab world and Southeast Asia, supported by CFI.
This week, we have an interview with Sao Phal Niseiy, Deputy Chief Editor at
Thmey Thmey (meaning literally “new new") is a Cambodian online media outlet launched in 2012 by a group of journalists who were working at the time for RFI and Cambodge Soir. Sao Phal Niseiy was initially recruited in 2013 as a translator before climbing the ladder to become its current Deputy Chief Editor, heading the international news department.
An influential outlet
Before joining Thmey Thmey, Sao Phal worked as a legal adviser at the Ministry of Women's Affairs: “I offered legal advice and protection to victims of domestic violence, rape and other forms of abuse", he explains. “I wanted to make a difference through writing in order to make a positive change in Cambodian society."He holds two degrees, one in public administration and another in international studies, both from the Royal University of Phnom Penh. It was after working at the Ministry of Women's Affairs that Sao Phal turned to journalism.
Thmey Thmey is a multimedia platform covering a wide range of topics: “30% of our articles focus on politics; the remaining 70% are about the economy, society and culture. We have earned a reputation in Cambodia as an independent and influential media outlet", notes the Chief Editor.
The outlet employs 50 people, including the editorial team, freelance journalists and administrative staff. Its headquarters are in Phnom Penh.
As Sao Phal describes it, the editorial approach is relatively “traditional": “We hold regular editorial meetings to find ideas for topics to cover and to deal with readers' complaints. As for the articles themselves, we encourage short, specialised and hard-hitting pieces. Facts and sources are rigorously checked. Credibility is our number one priority."
Thmey Thmey employs a range of strategies to remain at the cutting edge of journalism, including the development of data journalism, investigative journalism in the era of fake news and capacity-building of its journalists. The outlet took part in CFI's 4M Asia project, which has contributed to fostering media pluralism in Southeast Asia.It has also joined the Rural Networks, project launched in early September, which aims to develop rural information in Cambodia.
Digital technology: a “wise choice"
For Sao Phal, using digital technology to launch the outlet seemed the most sensible option: “There are major changes underway in the Cambodian media. The written press is dying out. According to the United Nations Census Bureau, Cambodia had nearly 7.16 million Internet users and 4.9 million active social media users in 2017, out of a total population of 17.7 million. “Our target audience ranges from the elites to the working classes, although the majority of our audience come from the middle classes."We felt the best thing to do was to use an online platform."
Thmeythmey.com has around 500,000 daily visitors and has a broad target audience. The outlet also has a Facebook page with more than 500,000 followers and a Twitter account totalling around 4,000 followers. It uses social media to relay the content published on its website: “For us, they're also powerful marketing and communication tools", the young man adds.
Its business model is based mainly on online advertising, advertorials, events services and book writing: “We have already published two books, including one on King Norodom Sihanouk. We also exchange content with foreign outlets", he reveals.
A media landscape damaged by fake news
According to Sao Phal, “in Cambodia, there are laws curtailing media freedom, and journalists are still threatened or charged for political reasons". The proliferation of fake news and amateurish outlets “devalues those outlets that do a good job", he believes.
For the Deputy Chief Editor, Thmey Thmey is an agent of change in Cambodia, particularly in the area of high-quality content production: “For example, in the case of international news, we don't just translate foreign press articles into our own language. We try to produce news based on the opinions of experts and on analyses. We help Cambodians to form their own opinions." Longer term, the outlet is planning to produce more videos and to develop its narrative strategy, while putting the emphasis on investigative topics.
Thmey Thmey recently launched the “25 provinces" application, which aims to develop local news in the various regions of the kingdom. Through the Rural Networks project, CFI will support the development of this new initiative, notably through the provision of training to new local reporters based in several provinces.