As a former traditional print journalist, I cannot leave behind the urge to keep up with the news. Consequently, I read online or on actual paper the three slim dailies published in English, presumably for expats.
The Khmer Times, which I confess has shown modest improvement since its plagiarism scandal several months ago, is the one in which I have the least faith in having achieved an acceptable journalistic standard. Rather, I tend to rely on the Cambodian Daily and the Phnom Penh Post, which do a pretty good job of reporting the news.
What I see virtually every day is stories about political corruption, traffic deaths, human rights abuses, sexual abuse, governmental misconduct and an extraordinarily high level of judicial malfeasance that boggles my mind.
Today’s editions had me exclaiming out loud as I sipped my usual cup of coffee at Brown’s. I subjected myself to four stories, two of which you can see in the image above. If only they described exceptional situations. If only I could tear myself away from the accounts. It gets harder every day to stomach the news.
In the likely event you cannot read the piece on the top left above, it says:
After drunkenly killing a motorist with his car and leading police on a high-speed chase in Siem Reap province, a senior Forest Administration was released without charge yesterday because he had no “intention to murder” the victim, a court official said.
The newspaper went on to report that the “extremely drunk” official, so inebriated that he could not be questioned the next day, dragged the victim and his motorbike several meters before speeding away in his SUV. The Daily continues:
Despite provincial traffic police suggesting charges of speeding, drunk driving, leaving the scene of an accident and reckless driving resulting in death, chief prosecutor Keut Sovannareth decided to release [the official] without charge. . .
It was said that the family had withdrawn a complaint against the official after accepting approximately $5,000 for their loss, a 41-year-old village security guard. Such payments and freedom are common in Cambodia.
Outrageous statements in the story included a court spokesman maintaining that the SUV driver “did not do anything wrong” and that the victim has been at fault for driving his motorbike in front of a speeding car. In addition, a higher offical of the Forestry Administration explained that the SUV operator kept going because, get this, he needed to “find a safe place” to park the thing. He wouldn’t comment on whether the Forestry Administration came up with the $5,000 for the family.
You can see part of another unsettling story to the right of the hit-and-run in the photo. That one is about a grenade that exploded under a moving car in a well-developed neighborhood of Phnom Penh within walking distance of my apartment. Three passengers were injured, at least one perhaps quite seriously.
There was some speculation that someone let fly the grenade out of revenge for an unexplained slight, maybe, it was rumored unpersuasively, related to the hit-and-run. Phnom Penh police chief figuratively threw up his hands when interviewed about the crime.
Then the Daily ran on Page 5 the following headline: “Rights Leader Resigns Amid Integrity Concerns, Criticism.” Regarding the resignation of Suon Bunsak, the newspaper detailed the situation:
In recent months, Mr. Bunsak has been accused of requesting a bribe from a private consultant to the group, manipulating a controversial land settlement and costing the committee funding due to donor concerns.
My last straw, which prompted me to scrap the post I had planned for today, concerned an announcement that reflects the government’s paranoia as it seeks to ensure victory in provincial elections next year and national elections in 2018.
The Daily quoted Governor Kuoch Chamroeun of Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district as barring balloon vendors from three areas popular with tourists, one of which is close to the prime minister’s official residence. That four balloon sellers were arrested a week or two ago for working near a protest in support of jailed activists must be a coincidence, right?
Yet the reasons given strain credulity.
While the sellers related having been told that fear of terrorism was the reason for the order, Chamroeun expressed to reporters a concern about the helium tanks used to inflate the balloons.
According to the newspaper, he said the tanks might explode and frighten people. “This would cause a stampede and the gas explosion would burn and injure others,” the governor added.
Well fine, but helium is inert and is not combustible.
Which leads me to a final point: There is little helium available in Cambodia, and I hear that the tanks may, therefore, be filled with cooking gas in the absence of any municipal supply lines.
If true and that use doesn’t give you indigestion, as it does me, you must have a cast-iron stomach.