Cambodia’s media officials were urged Friday to take more care when depicting women on their pages and programs.
“The media has a very powerful role in shaping society, it does not just reflect society,” Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said at a forum organized by the Women’s Media Center. “Our population is very young and if we only show images of violence …and…women as objects in pornography, it is violence against women.”
The forum, which drew more than 30 participants from media organizations, NGOs, writers associations and government ministries, discussed why Cambodian women are still largely portrayed as sex objects, beauty queens and potential wives rather than ordinary and equal members of society. The forum was funded by the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Vietnam.
Women’s Media Center Director Tiv Sarayeth said after the forum that there have been improvements but more can be done to break the negative stereotypes of Cambodian women.
“The direction it goes now will depend on the chief editors, if they volunteer to do things differently,” Tiv Sarayeth said. “But at least I feel that they understand what it means” to be more sensitive to gender issues.
However, Sek Borisoth, director of the Unesco-funded Cambodian Communications Institute and a participant at the forum, said Friday that the discussion, while useful, probably won’t change publishers’ minds.
According to Sek Borisoth, the bottom line for publishers is that their sexual content sells more newspapers and magazines. Appeals to publishers on moral and ethical grounds fall on deaf ears when alternatives are not offered to make up for their loss in earnings, he said.
“The publishers’ main argument is the sales of their papers….The only thing this forum can do is appeal to their conscience regarding their responsibility to younger people in society who are becoming sensitized to sex,” said Sek Borisoth.
However Pen Pheng, publisher of the leading Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia), said after the forum that when the paper began publishing it ran many articles of a sexual nature. However, recent cutbacks in the newspaper’s sexual content has not affected sales, said Pen Pheng.
Pen Pheng said Friday’s forum has prompted him to begin a women’s column in the newspaper.
While the conference discussed sexual content in the media, Sek Borisoth said that is not the most harmful way women are exploited. He noted that while magazines and newspapers are primarily consumed by an urban audience, brothels are a nationwide industry.
“Young people going to bars and brothels have more influence than the media,” said Sek Borisoth.
Similarly, hard-core pornographic videos and VCDs are on sale openly at markets and shops, he added. The government should crack down in those areas, he said.