Communications Department Hosts Cambodian Journalist
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A Cambodian journalist who became a rice farmer to escape being killed by the Khmer Rouge is a student in the University of Michigan's Master's Journalism program this spring.
The reporter, Som Sattana, is a Fellow in a new program, sponsored by the Freedom Forum, that has brought 15 journalism professionals and student journalists to the United States for study and work. The foundation selected the University of Michigan as one of ten host campuses for the program and awarded $7,500 to the Department of Communication to supervise the visit.
While Sattana is on campus, the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies will introduce him to Michigan faculty and students interested in Cambodian affairs and will help him plan additional studies. The International Institute is working with the Communication Department to develop additional visits from Freedom Forum Fellows.
Som, who is 34 years old, is a reporter for the Associated Press and reporter and announcer for the Voice of America. He was previously a reporter for Kampuchea Weekly and United Press International.
On campus in May and June, Som will be in a journalism "boot camp" that requires deadline reporting on police, government and university affairs. It will introduce him to the information-gathering practices and writing styles followed by reporters here.
In late June, he will go to Washington, D.C., for two weeks of training with other international journalists. Then he will return to Michigan to work at the Detroit News and resume studies in Ann Arbor.
"It's very exciting to have Som here," said Jonathan Friendly, director of the Master's Program in Journalism. He noted that the program has gotten an increasing number of students in dual-degree programs with the centers for Chinese, Japanese and Russian and East European area studies.
"We've been working on programs to get our students to study and work abroad," he said, "and Som represents the flip side of that coin."
Chris Wells, vice president for The Freedom Forum, noted that "as more and more closed societies begin to open up and provide greater access to information, it is vital that journalists in those countries understand the rights and the responsibilities of a free press."
The international fellowships are part of that education process, she said.
The Freedom Forum, headquartered in Arlington, Va., is an international, nonpartisan programmatic foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit. Its endowment of $725 million makes it the largest media-oriented foundation in the country.
The following is an excerpt from Sattana's fellowship application essay.
"I was very interested in reading newspapers when I was in primary school. Then I wanted to make myself the best journalist in my country. I failed in my aim because Cambodia fell into a very dark era in 1975 and I was forced by the Communist Khmer Rouge to leave my home city of Phnom Penh and my studies to go into the countryside to grow rice. During that regime, I did not receive any education, but only worked in the fields, and the Khmer Rouge never allowed Cambodians to gain advanced education.
"In January, 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime fell and I returned to Phnom Penh. I began to study English again but very secretly because we were still forbidden to study the language by the new Communist authorities until 1987. It took several years before I could study openly. In 1986 I passed my exam for a post with the Kampuchea Weekly, the very best newspaper in my country. In 1989, I was sent to study journalism in Budapest, Hungary, for about three months. In 1991, I began work with UPI [United Press International], where my Australian bureau chief worked closely with me to teach me about journalism in her country and the United States, where UPI is based. From there I moved to AP [Associated Press] and VOA [Voice of America].
"Despite all these successes, I have still not learned all I can. I think I would be able to learn much more, faster and more thoroughly, in a university in the United States. Not only would I learn in a classroom, but on the streets, where I could read everyday American newspapers.
"I have been a journalist for eight years but I still need even more training to reach my goal of becoming the best journalist in my country. Cambodia's prime minister and other high-ranking officials say they regard me as a journalist of "international standing." But I am hesitant to receive such a title because I met many American journalists who arrived in Cambodia with the U. N. peacekeeping mission in 1991. Most of them said they were trained in universities in the U.S.A., and they are true international journalists. I would like to become like them.
"My main interest is in political reporting because my life has been controlled by politics. As a journalist, I want to be able to be a watchdog of politicians to make them accountable to the people instead of in control of the people. I want to be able to practice true freedom of the press in my political reporting.
"Freedom of the press means the freedom to write the truth without punishment. It means the right to criticize the government for its failures and the right to publish stories about politicians who are corrupt or who use their power to persecute people. The freedom of the press has been denied journalists in my country for most of my life. Only now, after the U.N. operation brought many foreign journalists here and a new government was elected, has the press been fairly free to report on the government. I would like to study in the United States to learn how journalists there are able to practice true freedom of the press."