Land Conflict and Mass Communication Theory

By SUN Narin


LAND dispute is a heat and persistent issue in Cambodia since the nation’s government provided economic land concession and development areas to the local and foreign investors, which has caused hundreds of people being affected and replaced from their living area. According to the NGO Forum on Cambodia’s report, 236 land dispute cases occurred in 2009 and 81 cases happened in the five months early 2010.

In order to develop Phnom Penh capital, the government has replaced people from the development area though they are not satisfied with the compensation solution. As a result, they do the protests and demonstration to find fair solution, but nothing can be tackled and they also were, in some cases, forcefully replaced and beaten by the police. Roughly 85 demonstrations were staged by the land-grabbing victims in Phnom Penh in the first half of 2010, according to local rights group Adhoc official. The demonstrations and violent actions are always seen in few independent newspapers– the Phnom Penh Post and the Cambodia Daily– and broadcast by few foreign-supported radio stations such as Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA). On the other hand, the land-relevant news piece of demonstration or protests have never been covered on television.

It is obviously true that all the television stations in Cambodia are in favor of government, following the government’s policy by covering only government’s attainment, not news piece concerning government’s negative points, as the case of people’s protests for land solution and police’s violent action on the victims exemplifies. I have conducted a survey among a hundred university students in Phnom Penh and the result dictates that 84 percent of students say that the news program on televisions is biased to the government. Applying Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw’s agenda-setting theory which is the idea of the creation regarding news piece of public awareness and concern of salient issues by the news media, the television owners set kinds of news for people to know by broadcasting only news that they want people to know; they do not reveal the information pertaining to government’s negative points to specific situation, for instance people’s protests of land dispute.

In addition to agenda setting theory, developmental media theory of Denis McQuail (1987), a normative theory calling for government and media to work in partnership to ensure that media assist in the planned beneficial development of the country, is used in the land issue. This theory argues that until a nation is well established and its economic development well under way, media must be supportive rather than critical of government (J. Baran and K. Davis). To illustrate this with the land case, all television stations work to promote government’s achievement and do not view land protests for the public because they may find that this land protest can make people aware that the government is not kind to people at all. However, it seems, for practice in media in Cambodia, that Cambodian journalists promote the government due to the government’s influence on them such as money and power, not based on the idea of the theory at all. We can see clearly that newspapers, radios, especially televisions are media tool used by political people to promote their policies, not criticizing government or disclosing negative points of the leaders to the public. To sum up the above-mentioned description, most of newspapers, radios and televisions owners use agenda-setting theory along with the developmental media theory to view the land conflict for the public.

In my opinion, agenda-setting theory must not be applied in Cambodia because the country is democratic, so people have rights to access and be aware of every situation and a variety of topics related to the country both positivity and negativity. The media owners should not set topics for people to know, they, in stead, should tell a variety of topics to the public. Regarding land dispute, social responsibility of press is perfectly applicable to the country as the theory argues that journalists have to answer society’s need for truth, provide an open and diverse debate on public issues, and honest updates of current events. The theory also shows that the journalists should accept and fulfill certain obligations to society and they should be accountable to society.

In addition, journalists have to act as a watchdog, the idea of professionalization, for the people to serve the public needs, meaning that they have to let people know all kinds of news both positivity and negativity of government; people will know how the government is leading the country, what the nation’s development is and what government is doing to people since they are the people who vote for the government. Due to the fact that Cambodia is a developing country, developmental theory is not applicable to the country. Through my observation, the country’s development is slow; leading system has not been good yet and there are still a lot of negative points of government to solve, so media should criticize the government for a better change. Concerning land dispute, media, especially televisions should view demonstrations and protests to the public so that they know about the situation in the country. Moreover, the government will do whatever they want without considering opposition ideas if there is no criticism.

Responding to the media developmental media theory, U.S journalists have been critical of this view, believing that it is an updated version of authoritarian theory and that media should have never surrender the power to criticize government policies, even if voicing those criticism risks causing them to fail (J. Baran and K. Davis). According to the survey that I have done with 100 university students, 81 percent of students say that television need should criticize the government and 79 percent of students say that television stations should view demonstration, protests and violent actions of land conflict.

The opponent raising the idea that professionalization and social responsibility theory cannot be practiced in Cambodia’s media since the extremely powerful influence and media structure in Cambodia. However, as a democratic country and for better development, the journalists have to struggle against these impediments.

In conclusion, media in Cambodia are not in good condition and now agenda-setting and developmental media are not applicable for the press. I think professionalization and social responsibility theory can develop media system leading country to development.


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