Media and politics in Cambodia : the conditional mediated effects of motivation on political attitudes
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] This thesis project explores the relationship between Cambodian political identity and media diet for political information. More specifically, this research examines if and how individuals’ motivation to seek political information from different media platforms may have an impact on their political knowledge, efficacy, and participation. A great amount of research has focused on various political communication effects that result from both traditional and online media in stable, democratic countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia; however, media effects research about emerging democracies, such as Cambodia, is rather limited. The existing literature of media effects presupposes that all political parties have equal access to all kinds of media, in that such access is guaranteed by law (e.g. the U.S.'s Communications Act, 1934). In an emerging democracy, such as Cambodia, access to media—especially the traditional forms—is vaguely defined by law, and in practice access is highly skewed to favor the ruling party. Cambodia has encountered great political fluctuations—including a coup d’état, a genocide, and years of civil war— within the second half of the 20th century and has finally become a liberal multi-party democratic country after the Paris Peace Accord in 1991 (Chandler, 2000; United Nations, 2015). Although the path to democracy has been a long rocky ride, Cambodia has seized the opportunity to exercise the democratic process by holding national and sub-national elections regularly every five years (The National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 2014). The media is one of the essential components in a democracy because it could enhance or hinder the process. Ideally, the media serve as a watchdog for the public in a stable democracy, but it could also function as a propaganda mouthpiece for an authoritative democratic government. The major media outlets across all traditional platforms (television, radio, and print) in Cambodia are owned either by the government officials or politically affiliated individuals (i.e. the Prime Minister’s daughter). All these outlets together are presumed to reach over 80% of the Cambodian population, according to an initiative conducted by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media and Reporters Without Borders (2015). This means that while Cambodians’ main sources of information, including television, radio, and newspapers, (Freedom House, 2015) are somewhat diverse, the diversity of sources is still limited to only pro-government news (Men, 2014; Strangio, 2017). Fortunately, the advent of the Internet and social media could result in alternative avenues through which Cambodians—especially the young tech-savvy group and the majority makeup of the country’s population—can partake in the political process. Without the government’s control of the content that appears on the screens of computers and smartphones, Internet users in Cambodia could have more access to competitive political information and information on pressing social issues. With this alternative way to acquire diverse political information, Cambodians could be well equipped to evaluate political candidates and make informed decisions when casting their ballots, in addition to exercising their basic rights, such as the right to assemble, the right to voice their opinion, and the right to information. All of these rights are essential for a country to move towards a healthy democracy. To assess the role of online media in an emerging democracy, this survey-based study compared two different samples; one sample has access to the Internet and the other does not readily have Internet access. Two hundred fifty-seven Cambodians participated in the study through a purposive snowball sampling technique. The findings from this study show that partisanship is significantly associated with the media platforms that people use to acquire their political information. Furthermore, the results suggest that the media have a unique mediated effect on political attitudes both directly and depending on Internet access. Lastly, statistically significant differences in media diet and political attitudes between traditional and online media users were also observed. These findings suggest that in an emerging democracy, in this case Cambodia, the Internet is an effective and efficient platform to provide political information to the public, so that they can become well equipped and fully informed citizens in regards to their (real) country’s affairs beyond the government’s propaganda.
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