Hun Sen Orders Condom Advert Off Television

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a condom ad to be banned from television yesterday, arguing that rather than a safe-sex message the commercial promoted prostitution and promiscuity.

In a speech at the opening of the new Ministry of Tourism building, which sits on the site of the former HIV/AIDS community at Borei Keila, the premier said both the ministries of Information and Culture must examine a commercial he saw on TV3 on Sunday night during a boxing match.

“I say thank you for the condom companies for preventing HIV, but the spot I saw last night, it likely sells condoms and it probably en­courages young men to go to kar­aoke bars and find girls there,” the premier said.

He described the offending ad for OK brand condoms as ending with a couple in a kar­aoke room.

“One young man sits in a room waiting for a girl there and shows the OK condom to the girl. Is it promotion of the prevention of communicable diseases or HIV, or an appeal to sell condoms?”

Mr Hun Sen also criticized a television ad for the Number One brand condoms, now off the air, and added that he has ordered a billboard advertising condoms in Tuol Kok district to be taken down too.

“Here in Cambodia, it is not a [European Union] country. I am not against condoms; what I refer to is a man in a room waiting for a girl with a condom,” the prime minister continued.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Both television commercials were produced by the public health organization Population Services International. PSI’s Cambodia Country Manager Chris Jones wrote in an e-mail yesterday that the OK ad was designed to run during the weekend boxing match for the first and only time.

“Our intent was to use this specific event to reach a group of men with HIV prevention messaging by introducing the OK brand as an affordable, quality condom,” he said.

When asked if PSI would change its marketing strategy in the wake of the prime minister’s criticism, Mr Jones said, “Our strategy has been, and will continue to be, use of targeted channels and interventions to promote healthier behaviors to prevent HIV.”

Dr Anand Chaudhuri, officer in charge of Cambodia’s UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said yesterday that he had not heard the prime minister’s speech, but doubted that condom advertising could influence men to behave promiscuously.

“There’s no evidence to prove that. There’s no evidence anywhere to prove that. We’ve had these arguments before on sex education in schools,” he said.

However, Dr Chaudhuri stressed that the Cambodian government has every right to object to inappropriate content on TV.

“The problem is maybe not with the message, but with the way the message is conveyed. If [Hun Sen] wants to ban lewd advertising, I think he has a point.”

Dr Tia Phalla, deputy director of the government’s National Aids Authority, said yesterday that he could not say for certain if the condom advertisements would encourage men to seek out sex in entertainment centers.

However, he added that he did not like the message portrayed in many safe-sex ads.

“I’m strongly, deeply concerned that such advertising could create a false sense of understanding that every woman in a restaurant and beer garden can be negotiated for sex,” he said.

Rather than advertising campaigns, Dr Phalla said, condoms should be promoted through “targeted intervention” to women working in the sex and entertainment industry and the men who frequent them, “rather than doing very broad and misleading campaigns that damage our Cam­bodian culture.”

Despite Cambodia’s 100 percent condom use program, consistent condom use has plummeted among Cambodian men who frequent sex workers in the past two years, dropping from a high of 95 percent to 79 percent in just two years, according to the latest data from PSI.

The survey was conducted by interviewing 1,021 men at “high risk” venues such as brothels, beer gardens, massage parlors and karaoke bars in Cambodia’s urban centers.

That study also found that sexual transactions have largely shifted to entertainment venues after the majority of Cambodia’s brothels were closed in the wake of the new anti-human trafficking law.


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