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An epic journey: From a source seeker to a source for the seekers

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Neth Pheaktra during the launch of The Post Khmer on September 9, 2009. Post Staff

An epic journey: From a source seeker to a source for the seekers

It has been more than 10 years since I ended my former career as a journalist. I spent over a decade working as a professional journalist across the full-range of traditional media outlets – from printed newspapers to radio and television.

I was then given the opportunity to use my knowledge of the media and skills as a communicator to work as a spokesperson and then head of public affairs at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a tribunal established with the mission of seeking justice for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime.

Today, I am proud to serve as secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Environment.

My last job working as a journalist was at The Phnom Penh Post. I joined this newspaper in November, 2008, after the Khmer-English bilingual newspaper I was editing – The Mekong Times – went bankrupt.

I was deputy chief of staff and then managing editor of The Post Khmer before embarking on a new career in public relations as a spokesman for the Khmer Rouge tribunal on June 1, 2011.

Although I ended my career in journalism a decade ago and no longer an employee of The Post, a portion of my heart and soul will always belong to this newspaper, which now feels like an old friend or member of my family.

My attachment to The Post may be due to the fact that I – along with many talented colleagues – gave birth to the Khmer edition of The Post – the aptly named Post Khmer.

It came into being as the result of our long hours of hard work, toiling away together to realise our vision from the earliest concept development to details like logo and page design to hiring and training the staff and formulating a marketing strategy.

The creation of The Post Khmer was a grand exercise in team building and a greatly rewarding professional experience – one that I’ll never forget.

The Post Khmer printed its pilot issue on August 8, 2009, and then officially launched in competition with other newspapers on September 9, 2009. Both dates continue to serve as important milestones for myself personally and for The Post as a news organisation.

My bias in this regard is obvious, but I do feel I can truly say with pride that is warranted that The Post Khmer goes hand in hand with The Post English as the most authoritative and trusted sources of information available to the Cambodian public as well as the world at large.

As one of the founders, I am very proud of this newspaper, which continues to stand tall in the Cambodian media market by focusing on its primary strength, which is its leading role as Cambodia’s most steady and consistent source of factual, balanced and reliable news information.

The Post is where I reached the apex of my career in journalism and accomplished my proudest achievements. It also provided me with opportunities to apply what I had learned about the theoretical underpinnings of journalism while studying in France to real-life work experiences and to hone both my writing and management skills in the process.

And it must be said that The Post was a place of warmth and solidarity, productive partnerships and lasting friendships – it was not merely a job, but a community.

I have so many memories working there with a small army of unforgettable colleagues, some of whom are still with The Post today including Sam Rith, Vong Sokheng, Sok Visal, Prum Pheak and Pan Simala.

We went through difficult times together, sometimes working through the night, but also having fun together and taking pride in our work and our mission under the motto “The Phnom Penh Post: Serving Cambodia”.

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Even though our personal views at times differed, we all felt a spirit of brotherhood as we laboured shoulder to shoulder, helping each other uphold our common interests and serve the greater good by keeping our readers informed, always working hard to build and maintain the sterling reputation the newspaper.

The Post is now a historic institution in the field of journalism in the Kingdom. This is true in general when one examines the history of The Post itself as a newspaper serving the cause of truth in Cambodia.

Looking back on my time with The Post, I won’t claim to have realised this at the time, but it is now apparent that the paper really played an important role as the voice of Cambodia during the Cambodian-Thai conflict over the Preah Vihear temple.

Thailand could marshal much greater media resources to amplify its messages, but The Post was able to balance that by providing accurate information about Cambodia and its views as other nations looked on, unsure of what the situation might portend.

The tragic Water Festival stampede on the Koh Pich bridge on November 22, 2010, also stands out as a powerful recollection from my years as a journalist for the deep sorrow experienced by everyone involved in covering it at the time.

The stampede taught me important lessons about the need to be flexible and adaptable in our writing so that we may choose words that are both accurate to the situation while also showing respect for the gravity of such a terrible event.

The stampede confirmed to me how important it is for journalists to approach their reporting with a deep sense of responsibility and judicious caution when emotions are running high and rumours are multiplying. And I learned a great deal about how a spokesperson should act in the event of a crisis in order to shape public opinion and channel it in a constructive direction without resorting to omissions or deceptions.

And of course I can’t help but feel immense happiness when the leadership – especially Prime Minister Hun Sen – mentions The Post in one of his speeches or holds up the front page of the newspaper to reinforce his words, like he did with an article on Grandpa Ruam Rith, a purported friend of His Majesty the late King Father.

The Post has in recent years played an important role in contributing to national stability and people’s understanding of Cambodian politics by providing accurate, fast and reliable information based on clearly sourced information.

After working in the media for over 10 years and then as a spokesperson for over 10 years after that, I am really grateful for the time I spent in my career as a journalist, starting from the French-language news programme Rendez-vous on TVK, then writing for outlets like The Mekong Times, Radio France International, Khmer Mekong Production, and most recently – and finally – The Post.

Journalism provided me with challenging and rewarding work experiences and proved to be a strong professional base to advance in my career when I decided to move forward in a new direction.

These days, I have gone from being a “source seeker” to a source for the seekers, as a large part of my job is providing information to journalists in my role as an official spokesperson, initially for the ECCC and now for the environment ministry.

That may seem like a contradiction to some. I firmly believe, however, that both of these careers that I’ve pursued – journalist then and government spokesperson now – are fundamentally about finding a way to serve the greater good, promote the public interest and contribute to building a healthy and prosperous society.

Neth Pheaktra is currently Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman


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