In the first of a series of features throwing the spotlight on the cream of Cambodia’s social networkers and bloggers, Marissa Carruthers speaks to the man behind the popular Khmerbird blog, Santel Phin.
Time is precious for Khmer blogger Santel Phin, who juggles blogging, writing and a job working in the IT department at Phnom Penh International Airport with being a dad and husband.
But it’s his passion for his homeland that spurs him on to continue providing alternative information about the Kingdom, starting his day at 4.30am so he can fit blogging into his busy schedule.
The award-winning writer initially started blogging as a platform for his short stories but it was during a short stint in France, where he discovered a common misconception about his country exists, that he was inspired to write about contemporary Cambodia.
“I use the blog to provide information on Cambodia,” Santel, winner of the Nou Hach literary award for short stories, said. “When I went to France, I found a lot of people don’t really know what’s happening in Cambodia. They will just read the newspapers or watch the TV when there’s something wrong with the country.
“People just seem to know about the Khmer Rouge or the genocide that happened here and there is so much more to Cambodia. I wanted to raise the profile of the country and promote it to the outside world so people can know what’s really happening in Cambodia.
“I want people to find out about Cambodia today and the great things that are happening here right now so I started the blog.”
In response to this in 2008, Santel launched khmerbird.com, which features everything from profiles on Cambodian singers and celebrities, news and analysis, business, events and advice on various issues. Since then he has quickly made a name for himself as one of Cambodia’s first bloggers, inspiring many others to follow suit.
As a blogging pioneer, Santel started his site ahead of the times for Cambodia and has watched Internet use and social networking gather momentum during the last few years. As well as his blog, he has turned to social networking to promote his site and today has more than 8,120 followers on Twitter and a huge Facebook following.
“It’s a free platform to promote Cambodia and if anyone wants to write or share their business I can help them and if they write anything related to Cambodia I’m happy to publish it,” Santel said. “It’s important that there’s somewhere that people can turn to for this information.
“The use of the Internet and social networking has massively increased in Cambodia over the last few years, which means people have easy access to information. Facebook is hugely popular in Cambodia but Twitter is still catching up. A few years ago, the penetration of Facebook was only three per cent. This year, it’s five per cent so it’s going up.”
The rise of the mobile generation and the introduction of smart phones and tablets in Cambodia has also helped catapult Khmerbird into the forefront of the blogging scene, with more Cambodians able to readily access and research information – something Santel believes is essential in today’s world.
“It’s good for people to have access to the Internet because it means they can find out information for themselves but people have to be careful they don’t pass on false information and try to verify the facts because there have been many times that wrong information has got into the public.
“I think it’s important to verify our sources before we start sharing things because if we share wrong information it can lead to very bad misunderstandings and that is one fault with the Internet age. I always put a link to where I’ve got the information from so people can see for themselves.”
Another issue Santel feels strongly about is the recent controversy about proposed Internet laws in Cambodia to ban Internet cafes within 500 metres of schools – a shake-up that has caused outrage among human rights groups, who claim it is tantamount to censorship.
“It’s important that young people have access to the Internet. While I think in principle it’s a good idea because we don’t want children accessing pornography or playing games all of the time, a block would cover the whole of Phnom Penh and would affect a lot of people.
“We need to find a good balance and that may well be restricting what people can access in Internet cafes rather than banning it all together. The Internet is a useful tool for people and access to it can be vital.”
Santel is also currently writing a book on blogging. To read his blog, visit www.khmerbird.com.