Bun Tharum, Phnom Penh
The impact of the disclosure of cables from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, which could be part of the ongoing Wikileaks campaign, are hard to guess. But the leaks do raise questions as to how the Internet will open up governments, a media expert says.
Wikileaks, a whistle-blowing website that has begun releasing a series of State Department documents online, has so far put out little regarding Cambodia, although some 700 leaks from the Phnom Penh embassy are reportedly among more than 200,000 documents.
In one of the few cables released so far that mentions Cambodia, a cable from the US Embassy in Singapore reports former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew expressing concern that “Within hours, everything that is discussed in Asean meetings is known in Beijing, given China’s close ties with Laos, Cambodia, and Burma.”
Lee also reportedly said Cambodia had “not recovered yet from its difficult history, and the political system is too personalized around Prime Minister Hun Sen.”
Peou Chivoin, a media lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said in an e-mail the mention of Cambodia “in passing in relation to China” was not a surprise. But he said Wikileaks, in releasing State Department documents, had “opened up the space of information flow for citizens.”
“This is what the Internet and the World Wide Web were envisioned to do from the very beginning and hopefully they remain so,” he said.
There are concerns, however, he said. While the release of the documents by Wikileaks was of itself democratic, how the information was received “could be subjected to legal questions and political intentions,” he said.
Besides, “more information does not necessarily lead to better democracy,” he wrote. “A textbook explanation will tell us that a better democracy depends on the quality/nature of the information and the ability of the information consumers.”
Asked whether the leaks, or more like them, would increase transparency and openness in Cambodia, Peou Chivoin said it was not likely.
“Only few Cambodians would be able to access…such information, and far fewer would be able to connect any such information to pragmatic democratic practices,” he said.