Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh
When the Diamond Bridge tragedy began, most Cambodians turned on their televisions, while some others went online for news and information about the stampede victims and the cause of the disaster.
The stampede on the bridge, which connects Diamond Island to mainland Phnom Penh, took place at the end of the annual Water Festival, late in the evening of Nov. 22. It eventually left 353 people dead and nearly 400 injured. It was a major news story for the year, and it revealed the different roles that information media are playing in modern Cambodia.
Local media and wire services broke the news, and it became one of the top news stories for a global audience. TV stations had an advantage, and they broadcast live breaking news and continued live coverage as the event unfolded. Online news came second, counting a death toll that began at 17 and spread to several hundred as events unfolded. Then major local newspapers struggled to run the story for the following morning, as Cambodians woke with shock and sadness.
Even with the timing issue for newspapers, a local newsstand vendor in Phnom Penh said her business was good and that her sales were double the normal rate, as readers tried to learn what caused the disaster.
News reports said 8,000 people had tried to cross the bridge in opposite directions, creating a mass of people who couldn’t move and then panicked, causing the incident. The disaster became a topic of concern for those who had family members living and working in Phnom Penh. Cell phone providers nationwide struggled to handle communications from their customers, as they tired to reached loved ones, friends and family.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, online news sites have become new and vital sources for the growing number of Cambodians online, who sit comfortably in their offices or homes reading news stories in the age of fast-moving information.
It’s also worth mentioning that two TV stations played a role in charity following the stampede, calling for financial support from the audience and raising nearly $1.5 million to help families of victims and survivors.