Sunday, March 7, 2010

Recent News - March 2010

1. Sponsorship of the Military

The Prime Minister recently announced that private enterprises and individuals should sponsor a military unit. Promptly, the Phnom Penh Post published a list of such sponsors, allegedly drawn up by the government. The government did not issue a confirmation, nor did it deny that this list was indeed real.

I don’t know where this idea came from and who the father of this brainchild was. On the outside it makes sense for a country that is so cash-strapped for necessary development programs; but then, it spends about 3% of the national budget on the military, but the overall spending on security is almost 13%, or $256 million, which is quite hefty all things considered. And additionally, it isn’t as if Cambodia is in state of siege and would need all this patriotic, meaning material, support from its citizens. Realistically, the threat of war with Thailand is virtually non-existent. Those border skirmishes certainly stoked Cambodian’s pride and fervor for their heritage, but to use this as a pretext for such an action appears a little far-fetched.

Perhaps somebody got this idea traveling in the U. S. There you can adopt a highway. The sponsorship entails the donation of a certain amount of money that would be used to repair a stretch of highway. In return that stretch would be named after the sponsor and posted along the highway.

So how about calling this program, “Adopt a Brigade.” Then the brigade would not be ‘Unit 256’ but the ‘XYZ Brigade’ – the commercialization of the military. Maybe two competing companies could then solve their marketing conflicts with military force?

I hope this idea dies as quickly as it appeared.

2. Internet Exchange Points

The other news that raised the hackles of many a person was the idea that Telecom Cambodia would be awarded the installation of one sole Internet Exchange Point, effectively giving Telecom control over Internet content in Cambodia. In a country where less than 1% of population have access to the Internet, this is just as ill-conceived an idea as the one above.

It also raised concerns when the head of Telecom announced they could indeed block any undesirable content, which is nothing less than censorship. Although Telecom is state-owned its function is to provide telecommunications to the public, not to censor news or restrict the freedom of expression.

The Minister of Information, Khieu Kanarith, mollified the public with his statement that the government has no interest in restricting the flow of information from the Internet, and even cited the ‘undesirable’ website Reahu that was not blocked (despite Md. Bun Rany’s attempts to have it shut down). So let’s just hope that the head of Telecom was making unreflected personal comments (there is a nice slang term for this: 'talking out of his ….'), which indeed appeared to be the case here, given Khieu Kanarith’s rejection of the idea.

The other issue, of course, is the central Internet Exchange Point, which by all acounts is a free service provided by a few ISPs, but when awarded to Telecom would become a chargeable service, making already expensive Internet access even more expensive. The Internet is not only an entertainment media but also a great source of valuable information and can be and is used for educational purposes. Making it less affordable to the masses is tantamount to restricting access to the Internet. And that’s a bad idea in today’s world, no matter how you look at it. However, it’s not a done deal yet, so there is room for hope it will fade away quietly but forever.

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