Activists rejected an apology on Monday from a prominent television news host for remarks he made that a rapist and murderer should have kept his victim alive to “keep her for using again,” saying he was not genuinely sorry.
Meas Rithy, deputy director of Hang Meas TV, caused outrage when he made the comments during his popular “Morning News Show” on Thursday, in which he also told women to “sweet-talk your rapist” and not resist.
He initially referred to a case involving an 18-year-old woman, Sovan Sokmalin, who was raped and murdered after taking a taxi from Phnom Penh to Svay Rieng province on August 2. Her body was dumped face down in a rice field and tied to a rock, after the taxi had arrived in the province. Mr. Rithy then broadened the discussion to talk generally about rape and women putting themselves in danger. Two men have been arrested in connection with Sovan Sokmalin’s death, according to police.
After women’s groups organized an online petition against the presenter, Mr. Rithy apologized on air on Monday during his show but repeatedly defended his actions and said he was trying to educate women.
“He didn’t mean the apology at all,” Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said on Monday.
In a 27-minute video clip from his morning show posted on his Facebook page, Mr. Rithy insisted he meant no harm.
“I have no bad intentions toward anyone,” he said. “But now, I have to apologize to individuals or women who said that my words were not good, not correct. If it affected those people, I would like to apologize.”
Mr. Rithy insisted he spoke in humor and his comments were meant to educate. “I am thankful for the criticism and see all the loopholes that I did not think about. I apologize for the joking.”
But Cambodian blogger Catherine Harry, who posted a video discussing Mr. Rithy’s comments last Friday, said his apology wouldn’t cut it. “Most of the time, he was trying to further defend what he said just to save his own skin,” Ms. Harry said.
“He kept trying to dismiss his remarks as a ‘joke’ that meant no harm. The public, especially the media, needs to understand that such ‘jokes’ are not harmless. It perpetuates the rape culture, which has claimed hundreds of victims.”
The activists now plan to send an open letter to the information and women’s affairs ministries asking the government to issue a warning to Mr. Rithy, Ms. Sopheap said, and to write to Hang Meas TV suggesting they train Mr. Rithy to avoid such comments in the future.
A petition organized by women’s rights activists on Saturday demanding that Mr. Rithy apologize publicly and be held accountable to the government’s new code of conduct for media outlets reporting on violence against women gathered about 1,500 signatures before Mr. Rithy appeared on television on Monday to apologize.
On the phone on Monday, Mr. Rithy said any request of further action would “go beyond” what is necessary.
“I don’t know whether they [the activists] really have the intention of helping women or not,” Mr. Rithy said. Mr. Rithy added that he didn’t believe his comments had violated the new code of conduct but added that he would follow any ministry advice.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, begged to differ.
“I think this is in violation of the code of ethics, not only for journalists but for the general public, for Facebook users, and even moral ethics,” Mr. Chhean Nariddh said.
However, he said that if Mr. Rithy continued to make similar comments, his station should take action rather than the government.
Ms. Sopheap said the activists hoped to submit the finalized open letter to the ministries today.
“I certainly don’t think people should sweep this matter under the rug simply because he appeared in public and defended his words and action,” Ms. Harry said. “A joke is not funny when he’s the only one laughing.”