Cambodian Journalists’ New Mission: Writing for Road Safety
January 22, 2015, 8:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Cambodian Journalists’ New Mission: Writing for Road Safety

by Moeun Chhean Nariddh

Director of Cambodia Institute for Media Studies in Phnom Penh

 

 

On the outskirts of Vinh Phuc City, north of Hanoi, a fighter jet roars across a clear blue sky as a tank rumbles beneath on the opposite direction. The thunderous sound of the warplane makes the earth and a graveyard in the vicinity tremble. The combination of the fighter jet, the tank and the graveyard quickly causes a flashback among many people of the Vietnam War that turned Indochina into battlefields more than 40 years ago.

 

Accompanied by a Vietnamese journalist, two Cambodian female reporters run across the multiple-lane highway. Yet, they are not trying to run for cover from the training fighter jet. In fact, the three journalists are trying to dodge the fast moving cars and motorcycles streaming down the highway.

 

The two Cambodian reporters have joined 11 other journalists from Cambodia on a three-day visit to Vietnam to learn from the experience of Vietnamese journalists and road safety experts as part of an eight-month fellowship program funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies through the World Health Organization.

“In the past, people got killed from the war, but people are now getting killed from traffic accidents,” acknowledges Nguyen Van Thach, Director of the Vietnamese Journalists Training Center, echoing a recent remark by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who said more Cambodians have been killed in road crashes than during the two-decade civil war in Cambodia.

 

Replacing HIV/AIDS, traffic accidents have become an epidemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has affected virtually all families in Cambodia. The media plays an important role in educating about road safety to reduce deaths and injuries due to road crashes.

 

“As we are all aware, road traffic deaths and injuries are a growing public health concern in Cambodia,” Steven Iddings, WHO Team Leader for Noncommunicable Disease and Injury Prevention, told more than 30 regional journalists during a recent workshop in Siem Reap. “We have asked ourselves how the media can be the best tool to change people’s behavior toward road safety.”

 

Mr. Iddings said the media could be a tool to advocate the government to adopt the new road traffic law and to enhance law enforcement to reduce traffic accidents that are killing more than five people in Cambodia every day.

 

He said Cambodian journalists were invited to Vietnam to share the experience from the Vietnamese media which had actively participated in road safety. Meanwhile, he said Vietnam also started working on road safety at the same time as Cambodia after it received funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies for its 10-country global road safety program.

 

“During a short period of time after the road traffic law was adopted, Vietnamese people have almost been wearing helmets 100 percent,” he said.

 

On the second day of their trip to Vietnam, a group of Cambodian journalists sit at a coffee shop near an intersection in central Hanoi to observe the traffic flow on a late afternoon.

“All motorcycle drivers seem to be wearing helmets,” one reporter says as swamps of motorcycles accelerate once the light turns green.

 

However, a visit to a helmet factory north of Hanoi revealed that some drivers were merely wearing substandard helmets and appeared they were abiding by the traffic regulations.

 

“A substandard helmet may protect them from being fined, but it cannot protect their heads,” says Hoang Thi Na Huong, Deputy General Director of Protec Factory.

 

Then, she introduces her visitors to the helmet assembly line before instructing her colleague to show the crash impact test on a helmet in the laboratory.

 

The visit to the factory has left an impact on the work of Cambodian journalists who have vowed to write more in-depth stories on road safety upon their return to Cambodia.

 

“I think I am more willing and committed to reporting on road safety to educate people,” says Vay Vattey, reporter for Kampuchea Thmey Newspaper. “All Cambodian journalists should write more in-depth stories about road safety, because even journalists we know have also died or injured due to road crashes.”

 

In collaboration with the National Road Safety Committee and WHO, the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies has conducted a series of training workshops since March this year on road safety reporting in addition to WHO’s road safety fellowship program for the 13 selected journalists in Cambodia.

 

By the end of this year, around 150 journalists throughout the country will have completed the trainings which aimed to improve their knowledge on road safety and their skills on reporting on this issue.

 

During the workshops, Cambodian journalists told their own stories about the gruesome traffic accidents they have experienced to encourage fellow reporters to pay greater attention on educating the public about road safety.

 

They have learned how to interpret and compare traffic data from different countries by using the “roadskillmap.com” developed by the Pulitzer Center and to use the research and studies by the John Hopkins University, the Global Road Safety Partnership, Handicap International and the National Road Safety Committee.

 

Instead of writing simple news articles on road crashes, they have learned how to write analytical feature stories on road safety that seek to answer more in-depth questions and educate the public about the traffic law and major risk factors such as drink driving, speeding, nonuse of helmets and not wearing seatbelts.
After visiting the helmet factory and a provincial hospital, the 13 journalists and road safety experts from Cambodia return to stay at the Army Guesthouse. The sighting of the fighter jet, the tank and the graveyard has reminded them of the deaths caused by traffic accidents after the war ended.

As the sun rises the next morning, the journalists quickly grab their bags and make their way to the Noi Bai Airport to board a passenger plane back to Cambodia, where they will join other journalists to embark on a mission to fight for road safety.

 

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