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Print and be Dammed or “Haad your Gob?”

The UK is 36, Cambodia 147, out of 197 countries for Freedom of the Press 2014 according to Freedom House.  We need Foreign Media to help Cambodian Media.

(For the 2017 or latest Freedom House update, go to its website or access this report)

Freedom of expression is a most important human right.  Yet it is still routinely challenged in many countries, whenever criticism upsets powerful people.  I don’t intend to argue against that here.  Instead I want to ask about self-censorship and highly selective writing and editing, especially when editors decide that a story or issue “would not interest our readers!”  I wonder why certain kinds of stories always make it. Often they are ones most lacking informed comment.

You will see from my blogging supporting Cambodian child rights, that we are opposed to sex tourism; orphanage tourism; and things like “gap year” stays that can be harmful and counter-productive.

Apart from occasional worthy articles like in the Guardian last week, how do we get the message through to the Great British* Public?  Cambodian newspapers like the Cambodian Daily, Phnom Penh Post, do a good job. That is despite the risks Freedom House identifies, "withour fear or favor" is relative! They do try to cover such issues more consistently, but by the time their features are read, they are too late to make any difference.  The problem is already here.  Folks from Britain or wherever* have already arrived.  They include too many who are precisely the kind Cambodia does not want.

We need more coverage in the media of countries with more freedom! 

* Please substitute your own country’s name where you see this asterisk.

Before I go on, I must explain “Haad your Gob!  This is or used to be common Northumbrian vernacular. The words are sung in our famous song, “the Lambton Worm”.  “Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs” or in standard English “Be quiet, boys, shut your mouths!” (“Print and be dammed” is more famous, but I add a link below for those not familiar with its origins.)

If you would like to hear this great song, I can recommend either Stobhillgate First School
or the version by the much more famous Bryan Ferry from the album "From Tees to Tyne: The Northumbria Anthology."

My gob, or the touch-pad for sending digital messages instead, is hard to shut. I keep trying to persuade local media in the UK to take up the case, so far to little avail. If I get a reply, the explanation is that it's not newsworthy, at least not at a preventative stage. That soon changes when a scandal erupts.

There are several types of common “foreign” stories that hit media headlines in the UK*.

1                 Bad news like the HIV outbreak in one village, or malaria-resistance as a global threat.
2                 Sensational – like Gary Glitter’s arrest.
3                 Quirky -  like cows with healing powers, mystical tattoos, etc.
4                Mercy heroes and heroines, although well-intended, many of us in Cambodia would really question whether they are needed, or could do more at a needy location (usually they go for popular expatriate places rather than where care standards are poorer). Sometimes they are taking work that locals can and should do, enabling authorities to shirk responsibilities.

So this is a simple plea to all media in the UK:


Please try to inform your readers and viewers, periodically, and especially when you run travel features, that only responsible and law-abiding visitors should visit countries like Cambodia.  They should stick to tourist sites and attractions.  They should consciously avoid controversy or offending local laws and customs.  If they do want to come for “experience’ or to give something like their time, skills, or money, then please advise them to do their research properly; only arrange something through a trusted and reputable source, and stick to the same standards as apply at home.  Those include Police certified checks and professional qualifications before having any contact with children. Even then follow the simple rules - no unsupervised contact, no contact with a child on his or her own.

Yes, you may think "I'm OK". But the same is said by those who do harm. Children can't tell difference.

If you are thinking of volunteering in Cambodia, please watch this video.

And if you are a teacher in the UK, Australia or any country that has publications like the Times Education Supplement, please try to get them to feature this problem. So far they have never responded to any of my requests. However, no doubt the teaching profession could do much to solve the problem by enlightening students before they travel the world.

Update January 2017

A sensational sad story has hit the UK Press as covered in the main local #NorthEast evening newspaper. It reminds me of a famous saying of a former US Ambassador (who I used to meet).  My guess is my letter to that paper will not be printed:


For more about Northumbrian or Geordie speech, and a good laugh, visit: http://www.geordie.org.uk

The Northumberland Gazette has kindly published some items for me. One “The Women’s Institute Hut Halfway Round the World” does not appear to be online any more, so please ask me for a copy.  It tells how remote Cambodian villages are building wooden community centres with an uncanny resemblance to WI ones like Ulgham, pronounced “ Uffham”! Many of these are disappearing, once there many in the 1950s such a my village.  They serve the same purpose of a wide range of social and public activities.


Another the Gazette covered "Cheers from Cambodia", definitely of the quirky variety tell of when my mother presented to her local pub a Cambodian bottle of spirits infused with a snake, said to have Viagra-like powers! It soon disappeared.

Finally, as I lived for four years in Devon, the Express and Echo, covered a story near where I lived.  I supported a school making a responsible exchange trip to Cambodia.  Around the same time I failed to persuade other schools in the UK not to make irresponsible trips to dubious orphanages.  The Times Educational Supplement did not respond to my requests to a feature on this topic nor to schools advising their students wishing to take a gap year to do their research too.  Apart from inappropriate placements abroad, they could find that they are paying far too much.

1 comment:

  1. 24 February 2016
    The most quirky story for some time has to be about the toilet built for a Thai Princess, with the saddest fact that none of the world's media focussed at all on the real problem where it was located - ancetsral land of indigenous people being confiscated, without compensation!