Pen Bona, 39, has been working as a co-editor-in-chief at a French newspaper, Cambodge Soir for eleven years. Also, he has been a correspondent for RFI (Radio France International) for five years. Recently, he also worked as an editor-in-chief in a local newspaper, Samnei Thmei from 2004 until June 2007 and in Economics Today, a Khmer language magazine, in 2007.
He was a former student of journalism at the Department of the French Language at the RUPP (Royal University of Phnom Penh). He started to write a newspaper in 1995 back then and began to work as a journalist at Cambodge Soir in 1996.
Q1: After your graduation, how were you selected to work at Cambodge Soir?
At that time, I was a student and doing an internship in Cambodge Soir. I worked hard there and when they saw me working very well, they chose me.
Q2: Mr. Bona, you had worked in two local media organizations. What is it like to work in a LOCAL media organization?
Working in a local media organization was easier than working in a foreign one. The first reason is that the news is written in the native language, Khmer, so I could write smoothly and write language expressions I can put into news. That means, I had more control over the language or its tone.
Q3: You have worked in two different foreign media organizations. What are your challenges of working there?
There are a lot of challenges. The first thing is the language. As I am working for Cambodge Soir, I have to write in French, which is unavoidable and required. Usually, my brain has to slow down a bit to think a lot when I read or write news in French. As a reporter, journalist and editor in a foreign media organization like Cambodge Soir, I have to know a foreign language well. The second thing is the communication with other foreign staff. I do not have difficulties in dealing with other Cambodian staff but the foreign colleagues, who have different ways of thinking and personalities. They can get so moody sometimes if things do not get their way. I have learned to compromise with their behavior and get to know their culture as well. At times, what can be accepted by a foreign culture might not be accepted by the Cambodian cultures. Thus, when a journalist has to work in a foreign newspaper or media, it is important to understand other foreign staff’s behavior as journalism demands a team work.
Q4: Mr. Bona, I have heard that a journalist’s salary in a foreign media organization is higher than working in a local media. Could you explain this phenomenon with your judgement?
There are many factors in this case that leaves a small gap in the salary. Of course, the salary in the local media is lower because first the journalists write in Khmer and use the Cambodian currency for giving a salary. As for the salary in the foreign media, like The Cambodia Daily which is financially supported by an American wealthy businessman, it uses a foreign currency, dollar. That is why the salary is higher. Second, the practices of journalism ethics are different. Both have different ways of work. Journalists working in a foreign media have to be professional to get a position there while journalists in a local media might not experience a formal training. Hence, they receive different amounts of salary.
Q5: What are the conditions of Cambodian journalists working in a foreign versus local newspaper or media?
For example, a journalist working in a foreign media is required of professionalism. That means, one has to have a bunch of experience and go through training first so as to work in a foreign media. They are sometimes prohibited from working in another organization; however, the salary is high so it does not matter at all. About a journalist in a local media, he or she might not be professional and has to earn some tips through several ways like attending a seminar to get a good amount of money or to write something bad about someone just to threaten them for money. I feel that their conditions are very tough as the worse problem above all else is the financial affairs. So this prompts those journalists to work different ways to earn money.
Q6: How different is the work load between journalists working in a local and foreign media?
I think journalists are all busy people so wherever they work, they have a lot of tasks to fulfill. A small difference is that the journalists for a foreign media have to write news, according to importance or priorities. They write with regarding to their abilities as well. For example, some journalists like writing about politics and the others social security. There is a lot of motivation going around here so we feel like going for good news stories for our newspaper. As for the journalists for a local media, their task is set. For instance, today they have to write two news stories. So whatever they do, they must find two news stories for their editors today.
Q7: Throughout your work experience, what kind of news do you cover working as a reporter for RFI?
I like writing and reporting political news. First, it is because I like politics myself. Second, I prefer analyzing political news so I usually keep track of the news and the history. It is important to note that people are very much interested in politics. They are curious about what is happening within their country.
Q8: Mr. Bona, there is resentment from some Cambodian journalists in a local media, that they should receive a high salary. What do you think?
Personally, I think that every journalist wants to have a high salary. However, the crux is that those journalists have to improve themselves too. They should become more professional in their career. But it is not really their fault. When the local media, such as newspaper cannot sell out, they will put the advertisements on it. Then, the readers will lose interest in it and the profit gets less too.
Q9: What are your opinions about how to improve the local media?First, the local media has to work hard for it by following media ethics. The journalists themselves are supposed to write news with accuracy and truth. Second, the living standards of the readers must be improved. Since they are not interested in reading but earning money, they will not read our newspaper and so reading is not really Cambodians’ habit yet. That is why we need to build trust within our readers and encourage them to buy and read it more.