Despite death threats and accusations of political bias, journalist Soy Sopheap continues to host Thursday Talk, one of the country’s most popular news analysis TV shows.
Anchorman, publisher and political mediator, Soy Sopheap sits coolly behind his desk
in a small office inside the café across from the National Assembly known
as the “Tamarind Tree.” He wears a button of the late Buddhist patriarch
Choun Nath and a cheery tie emblazoned with teddy bears, hearts and the plea “Be
mine.” At 35, he’s young to be a dean of the Cambodian press corps, but simply
having an office at Phnom Penh’s most popular journalist hang out attests to his
stature. The Phnom Penh native, whose family was relocated to Pursat province under
the Khmer Rouge, has become increasingly popular for his early morning Cambodian
Television Network program Newsday, and his weekly political analysis Thursday Talk.
In December, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of newspaper Nagaravatta, he
launched Deum Ampil News. Last year Sopheap helped broker the release of five imprisoned
civil society leaders and the return from exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
His rise to fame hasn’t come easily: he’s been accused of political bias, received
death threats and suffered the tragic loss of his wife four years ago. “I am
just a man who brings what leaders say to the people,” Sopheap told the Post.
He spoke to Charles McDermid on March 29 about politics, pressure and freedom
of the press.
Are you aligned with any political party?
Because I am very close with the leaders of the country people have said I am pro-Hun
Sen; I am pro-Prince Ranariddh; I am pro-Sam Rainsy. Actually, I belong to no party.
I am Soy Sopheap, independent. Over time, the leaders have realized I have no political
intentions. The leaders of the country trust me and allow me to ask them questions.
This lets me dare to do my job.
Does freedom of the press exist in Cambodia?
Compared to other countries, the situation in Cambodia is better. If not, we wouldn’t
be talking right now. Some people outside Cambodia have observed that there is not
enough media freedom, but the level of freedom has really developed. I myself interview
all political parties on TV and I am free to speak in my analysis.
You began your career in 1994, who were your mentors?
In my life I have been influenced by three well known journalists: Sam “Mayarith”
Sothana from Radio Free Asia, Reach Sambath, press officer at the Khmer Rouge Trials
and Ker Munthit of the Associated Press. I learned about political history from journalist
Khieu Kola. In broadcasting, I’ve studied two people. One is Kem Kunroath, director-general
of TVK. I’ve watched him and learned from him. The other is Thorn Chay, who was on
an old radio program called Malo Pi. I never met him – he’s dead now – but I admired
a biography that was written of his life. He was a simple man who told important
stories. I learned from him to dare to ask any question of any one.
How did you respond to the recent death threat?
Someone dropped off a written letter to me with a death threat. I complained to authorities,
then I dropped my complaint. The note had a phone number on it, and when I called
the number it was a very respectable, high-ranking man. I think someone used his
number. We resolved the issue very quietly. It’s very normal; you must always be
careful in journalism.
What was your role in the release of the five jailed civil society activists –
Kem Sokha, Yeng Virak, Mam Sonando, Rong Chhun and Pa Nguon Teang – and the return
of Royal advisor Say Bory in 2006?
I approached this situation from the point of view of Kem Sokha and Say Bory. The
objective for me was to fill the role of spokesman from them to Hun Sen. Before I
did this I first examined my feelings. What is important for me is that I am Khmer.
I know the heart of the Khmer people and their leaders. I understand the political
situation clearly. That’s why I dared to do this and we had success.
Why did the parties involved come to you?
Because the country’s leaders know me. Second, I work for TV and people look at me
to see that I talk about all points. I myself think politicians in the country should
be more tolerant. We have a country to protect. Khmer politicians should not look
at each other as enemies. We need competition in politics. I respect Sam Rainsy.
I love Prince Ranariddh. Why not find common ground for the Cambodian people? Why
does Cambodia, and Cambodian politicians, look outside the country for help when
we can solve the problem among us?
What are the biggest news stories in Cambodia now?
One, is land grabbing and the other is corruption. The solution can be one arrow
that kills two birds. If we attack land grabbing we will be battling corruption also.
I want to tell you: PM Hun Sen is worried about land grabbing. What I predict is
that Cambodia will not have a farmer’s revolution. Hun Sen’s formula on land grabbing
will solve the problem. My prediction is that in the upcoming year the problem will
What does the Cambodian public think about the Khmer Rouge trials?
The important things are rebirth and survival. People really support the trial. But
I also ask the international community: please think about the Cambodian people.
Don’t let small things split apart the process. We completely support the trial,
but the rules must be about reconciliation and peace. Cambodia was a victim of an
ideology, without this we would not have had the killing and sadness. The Khmer Rouge
pushed the Khmer people further from Buddhism. Now, with Buddhism in mind, we can
be peaceful. When this returns to our country we can reach out to each other and
What would you do if you had a great story and Hun Sen asked you to not run it?
Hun Sen has never asked me to do that. The issue would be decided by the whole television
station, not me. But this is not an issue.
What’s Hun Sen like as a person?
He’s a man who respects his promise. Among the current leaders I have met, when he
speaks he makes me the most comfortable. He is a realist and he can speak to all
kinds of people. He understands what the Cambodian people want. He knows the mind
of the people and he has had success as a leader. This is why at the moment, and
in the future, too, he deserves to preserve continuity.
What do you see for the future of Cambodia?
I believe my Kingdom has a great destiny.