Alumnus Kimseng Men '98 speaks at Professor Doyle's Media Globalization class
October 17, 2016
Kimseng Men ’98, Voice of America International Broadcaster, spoke with Professor Waddick Doyle’s Media Globalization class on October 3, 2016. Men was one of the first Cambodian recipients of AUP’s journalism scholarship through The Center for the Study of International Communications (CECI), started by former AUP president Lee Huebner and AUP Trustee and Director Emeritus of The Asia Foundation, Paul Slawson. As Men explained to the class, “I wanted to experience real journalism, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to find that in Cambodia.”
In 1997, the year that Men arrived at AUP, Cambodia had succumbed to interfactional fighting, 18 years after the genocide that claimed a third of its population. As Men remembered it, “I received the scholarship in May and the fighting broke out in July.” When he left in September, it was his first time stepping foot outside of Cambodia. “Culture shock? Absolutely! People were using the F-word, my landlady came into my apartment without asking—the differences between Asian and Western cultures were bewildering.”
Men argues that globalization is politically, socially, and culturally beneficial to Cambodia. “News agencies like Voice of America can bring news that wouldn’t otherwise be covered.” He points to growing Internet access and the rise of social media usage as being profound game-changers in Cambodia’s political arena. “Before the 2013 election, the opposition had zero access to national TV and radio. It was because of social media that it was able to finally win more seats.” He also discussed the crucial role of “citizen-journalists”, who use social media to expose events that might otherwise be concealed. “By putting real news online, people can react to what’s really going on around them.”
It has been eight years since Men has set foot in his native country. Given the sensitive topics that he explores for Voice of America—including the imprisonment of human rights workers and the Panama Papers’ revelation of Cambodia’s ties to offshore firms—he has been nervous about going back. (This courting of controversy is not new: an article he’d written as a student for AUP’s The Planet landed him in hot water with the Cambodian Embassy.) However, this hasn’t diminished his role within the Cambodian community: he has been recognized as that Kimseng while posing in front of the Eiffel Tower and paying his respects at a temple. Men’s articles and videos help connect the Cambodian diaspora that spans continents.
For Men, international communication and cooperation are key to ensuring the rights of citizens. Otherwise, it becomes too easy for nations to control media and too difficult for citizens to see beyond their immediate borders. It’s for this reason that he returned to journalism after a six-year stint as communications manager and spokesperson of the United Nations Development Program in Cambodia. “I’ve chosen what lets me be free.”