This blog is the successor to a publication and website for which I was responsible for many years – The Mirror. The following explains its history and its end, as published in the final issue of The Mirror on 3 April 2011.
The description of The Mirror – “About the Mirror” – has changed several times since its inception. Another version is now due – not only the latest one, but the last. The regular publications of The Mirror come to an end on 3 April 2011 – but the site will remain on the web as an archive of what has been published in the past.
More details about this follow at the end.
But first, a recapitulation of the history of The Mirror, a bit long – but these were years of many changes.
The Mirror began in May 1997 as a weekly publication available on paper and by email. It provided an overview of the Khmer language press in English translations as well as a reflective editorial on Sundays. It deliberately put articles from across the political spectrum and across the fields of interest into one publication, reflecting it all: facts, politically biased ‘analysis,’ and rumor, about corruption, courage, disaster, achievement, the ridiculous, and opportunities for improvement and social justice. Times were ripe for a publication like this. There was tremendous political tension and little dialogue across factions. (Indeed, in July 1997 there was armed conflict in the streets of Phnom Penh between the two political parties that were co-ruling the country. I vividly remember working with my wife to produce one issue of The Mirror while listening to nearby shelling. We had moved our young son downstairs to be near us, in a room where we had covered the windows with mattresses.)
But is there now, more than a decade later, real dialogue across factions in Cambodia?
The warm reception for The Mirror enabled us to add a Khmer version – Kanhchok Sangkum – A Mirror of Society – in 1998. It reflected the same breadth of articles from the Khmer press, and included the editorial in translation. In addition to regular subscriptions and copies for all members of Parliament and key government administrators, up to 2000 copies per week were delivered into the provinces, where there were hardly any Khmer language newspapers. We received thanks particularly from Cambodians who wanted to be active in shaping their country and its direction. I especially enjoy recalling handwritten letters from Cambodian readers who – based in far away provinces – reported reading Kanhchok Sangkum regularly at a local pagoda, at a school, a provincial administration, or an NGO office. And the foreign language department at an university in Kobe/Japan used The Mirror and the Kanhchok Sangkum for their Khmer language classes.
Over time both publications became well-regarded. For example, embassies in Phnom Penh called if they didn’t receive an issue at the expected time, and South East Asia departments of universities around the world had subscriptions. The weekly editorials, frequently focused on instances of injustice, corruption, inefficiency, or blind patriotism, were a challenge. I received a number of threats; they concerned us, but also let us know that we were having an impact.
We had to discontinue both publications in mid 2006, when the Board of Directors of the Open Forum of Cambodia – http://www.forum.org.kh – which had oversight at that time – withdrew financial resources that had been granted for the continuing support of The Mirror.
In January of 2007, The Mirror started again, though only on the Internet and only in English. The Open Institute – http://www.open.org.kh – provided some institutional and financial support, we got a few contributions, and my wife and I personally covered the shortfall. Again, daily translations from the Khmer press were published from Monday to Saturday, with an editorial on Sundays. Much time and energy was also spent to add background information to the texts in the form of Internet links. The regularly increasing number of readers, with up to 10,000 visits per month from a surprising number of countries around the world, were an encouragement to continue this public service.
With the beginning of September 2010 we faced reduced resources, and another phase of The Mirror started. The goal remained similar: to regularly provide an overview of major dynamics in Cambodian society, and by doing so to facilitate dialogue between different opinions and positions. The Mirror continued to reflect a wide variety of sources of information, including some from outside of the country, with links to background information – but no longer every day. And there was a fundamental change: it was no longer a publication based on translations from the Khmer press.
While I tried to continue The Mirror in this way during September and October 2010, I had to see that the tradition of a publication based on the Khmer language press had come to an end – though the logical consequence had not been taken. It was difficult to consider ending something which still enjoyed a regular interest among so many readers.
In November 2010, there seemed to be a possibility to maintain The Mirror in a way that it would continue to reflect – to mirror – major dynamics in Cambodian society based on what goes on in the world of media in Cambodia, and in addition it would provide a platform and voice for young Cambodian journalists and journalism students. A graduate of the Department of Media & Communication of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, with an excellent established record as a journalist, reporter, and blogger, became a co-editor of The Mirror. We shared here an example of her international experiences and the way in which she is relating them to Cambodian concerns. Unfortunately, this plan proved over-ambitious. While The Mirror published six contributions from Keo Kounila since November, which were widely read, and I appreciated this new cooperation, she finally decided not to take on the larger role of a co-editor of The Mirror, which would have located it in a new way in the world of Khmer media. Translations, however, had not been part of these new considerations anyway, but translations had really been the main specific character of The Mirror over the years.
In view of these facts, the issue of 3 April 2011 was the last regular publication of The Mirror.
However, I have no plan to take the site of The Mirror http://www.cambodiamirror.org down. It will stay accessible as a resource about the Cambodian history as reflected in The Mirror from May 1997 through 3 April 2011. While the site currently has only the period of January 2007 to the present on-line, I will be adding the weekly publications – both English and Khmer versions – from 1997 to 2006. Over time, I will also – depending on the technical support needed and available – install more effective search facilities for the entire archive.
Future readers of the archives should know that, while my name is always shown as the editor – and therefore all criticism did not affect anybody else – The Mirror and the Kanhchok Sangkum were the result of a tremendous amount of work from many dedicated people: translators, copy editors, people keeping track of and delivering subscriptions, people purchasing and archiving the physical newspapers, fundraisers, internet specialists, and more. They are too many to name, but I have appreciated working with them all. It has been a privilege and a great satisfaction to see our publications appear and have an impact on Cambodian society weekly, and to have a forum to call for clear and honest thinking, dialogue, and social justice.
While I “retire” from The Mirror on my 77th birthday, I plan to continue to share, from time to time, observations and reflections. The address of my new blog is:
…thinking it over – after 21 years in Cambodia
I would be happy if you – old readers of The Mirror and new readers of this blog – would visit this address again. And I would appreciate it very much if you would share your observations and reflections it its Comments and Discussions section. I think that not unilateral publications, but mutual communication, is the most important feature which the Internet makes possible for the societies in which we live.
There may be some glitches during the initial use of the new blog format (especially in the Comments and Discussions section) – please let me have any suggestions relating to the technology or the layout which could improve our communication.