Citing a recent radio broadcast that reportedly cast Buddhism, Cambodia’s national religion, in a negative light when it came to philanthropy, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith issued a letter instructing radio and television stations not to air commentaries criticizing any religion.
According to the letter issued Jan 11, a Christian radio commentator recently said that while Christians frequently donate to causes such as crisis relief and to prisoner aid, Buddhists are much less generous.
“Some radio and television stations do not pay attention to their responsibility to properly produce religious programming by allowing commentators to compare one religion against another which can cause a rift among religions,” according to the minister’s letter.
Contacted yesterday, Mr Kanharith declined to name the radio station that broadcast the commentary in question but said that the broadcaster has agreed to follow the notice.
The government has reacted strongly in the past to proselytizing by Christians. In 2007, the government banned door-to-door proselytizing because it was deemed to disturb people and could affects security. In late 2008, the Information Ministry also banned the broadcast of the rock opera “Where Elephants Weep” following complaints from the Supreme Sangha Council of Buddhist monks about the depiction of Buddhist monks who were shown singing and dancing in the musical.
Non Nget, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya sect, said yesterday that he was unaware of the Christian broadcast but said that the government should take serious action in such circumstances.
“They should be punished for this,” he said.
Lork Choeu, a preacher at the Phnom Penh Church of Christ, said while his church does proselytize, it has never run into any problems with the government and the church does not criticize other religions.
“We should do good as much as we possibly can but should not speak ill of others,” he said. “We say the truth to the people and the people have their own choice.”
Chea Vannath, former director of the Center for Social Development, said that there is a fine line between freedom of expression and peaceful coexistence.
“If the person does not understand religion well and starts to criticize them, the outcome is social tension,” she said “It easily becomes emotional, becomes personal, and easily out of control.”
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)