Khmer440 Meets Kounila Keo aka Blue LadyJanuary 14, 2013
Dubbed one of Cambodia’s top five bloggers, freelance journalist and social media champion Kounila Keo’s strongest weapon is words and she uses them wisely to educate, inform and inspire. Marissa Carruthers finds out what drives the woman behind blueladyblog.com.
In just a few years, Kounila Keo has risen through the ranks of university, been snapped up by international press agency Agence France Presse (AFP) and travelled the globe heading workshops, conferences and forums on journalism and social media.
With a passion for social issues, human rights and freedom of speech, the 24-year-old strives to break new barriers and spread the word to an even wider audience of young Khmers, who she says are hungry to learn more about social media and the world around them.
Undeterred by fears of entering a “risky” profession, Kounila enrolled on a media and communications course at the University of Phnom Penh in 2006. In her second year, her enthusiasm, spark and talent was spotted by AFP, where she interned for three months before landing herself a freelance job.
Since graduating in 2010, Kounila has worked at various other publications, including the Phnom Penh Post, and has secured herself a healthy following among the younger Khmer population through her blog, bluelady.com, which she uses to tackle issues of importance to her.
She has scooped a string of awards and fellowships along the way, which have seen her travel to Russia, South Africa, Germany and Argentina to report on events. And Kounila has gone on to organise and speak at a string of international events on social media, blogging, journalism and new media, passing on the information to young Khmers in workshops she has organised, helping to shape the direction of journalism in Cambodia.
“I love writing,” Kounila said. “I love writing about the social issues, and politics sometimes, but I like mostly writing about the soft news, the news on the ground like the health issues. These are under-represented in Cambodian news and I think journalists have a role to play and should look at different angles here.
“It’s not always about politics and the big stuff and in Cambodia people tend to sensationalise and I feel this issue needs to be addressed. Things like sexual health are never addressed and this is where journalists can come in, which is what I try to do.”
This is where blueladyblog comes into play. Launched in 2007, Kounila, who was born and bred in Phnom Penh, wanted to share her thoughts and experiences in Cambodia with the world. “I started my blog after meeting two Cambodian girls online who said they had their own personal website. I didn’t know anything about blogging but thought it sounds cool and had a look into it.
“Suddenly I had this strong urge to write everything. I wrote about community work I was doing in the provinces and at schools, if I travelled somewhere I would blog about it or if I went somewhere to talk to young people about my job and it started like that.
“Blogging has become a big part of my life right now. My blog is a piece of me and I hope to inspire other people.”
Through her blog, Kounila also tackles many of the issues that are missed out of the headlines, offers her opinion on all things Cambodian, comments on topical news and skirts around the censorship she says exists in the media.
“I believe in freedom of expression and freedom of expression is still of concern to a lot of people. This doesn’t just exist in Cambodia; it’s in Thailand, Vietnam and other countries where the government wants to have more control.
“For a lot of people journalism is seen as very risky and you hear a lot of cases of intimidation against journalists in my country and some of them have been gunned down for what they write. Censorship does exist here but there are ways round it and it doesn’t stop journalists. If you want to criticize someone, you don’t do it directly, things like that.”
Hoping to inspire a generation of Khmers to express themselves freely and openly and boost blogging in Cambodia, which she says is a vital alternative to traditional news, Kounila has organised a series of events, including BlogFestAsia 2012, FilmCamp and KhmerTalks and has many more in the pipeline.
“I have learnt so much through my experiences of blogging and working and travelling and I want other young Cambodians to benefit from it. Social media and blogging opens up a whole new world to a lot of people who come and that’s really nice to see.”
Visit Kounila’s blog at www.blueladyblog.com