Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Sunday that any play, movie or musical featuring monks must from now on be screened and approved by the Ministry of Cult and Religions and the leader of a Buddhist sect before it can be broadcast on television.
The prime minister called on any TV station, private or public, to seek permission from the ministry and Non Nget, the supreme patriarch of the dominant Mohanikaya sect, before presenting shows with actors depicting monks.
“I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the producers of any form of rock opera, movie and drama that involve actors acting as monks. They must have permission from Non Nget and the Ministry of Cult and Religions,” Hun Sen said in a speech at the inauguration of a Phnom Penh pagoda Sunday. “Don’t use monks to joke,” he said.
Hun Sen’s comments come following a controversy over the rock opera, “Where Elephants Weep,” which tells a story involving two young monks. Some Buddhist monks were outraged by the show’s Dec 25 broadcast on CTN and demanded it be banned.
A compromise was reached, with the production team issuing an apology and agreeing to rewrite some scenes. Some feared, however, that the attack against Cambodia’s first musical would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
“I support the monks’ reaction against the “Where Elephants Weep” performance,” Hun Sen said, also criticizing a movie version of the classic “Tum and Teav,” which was based on a Ministry of Education Khmer literature textbook.
Prim Phloeun, spokesman for the rock opera’s production team, said they were still working on modifying some scenes for television and that the new version would then be sent to the Ministry of Cult and Religions for approval.
Hun Sen’s comments were an effort to “coordinate” the different parties in disputes over religion, he said.
“I call his actions ‘coordination’ because I am Cambodian, but foreigners will regard this as censorship,” he added.
Apsara TV director Sok Ey San said he would comply with Hun Sen’s order.
“The government’s measure is correct; we want to develop and preserve the [Cambodian] culture,” he said.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said he supported the show’s theater performance, but different rules are justified for television because the audience is different and they don’t necessarily understand the premise of a rock opera.
“This is not censorship,” he said.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said, however, that this was a clear attack on freedom of expression.
“This is an attempt to eliminate other voices beside the CPP that they don’t like,” he said. “This affects freedom of speech.”