Pich Tun Kravel is afraid that if Cambodia doesn’t improve its television programming, the next generation will be stupid.
“Khmer children are losing their brains, all the time, every day,’’ by sitting and staring at dumb programs on TV, he said. “It is a dangerous thing for our nation if our adults don’t know about their own culture.’’
Pich Tun Kravel, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Fine Arts and Culture, is just one of the officials who want to see more high-quality Cambodian programming on national TV.
It’s a war that Lu Laysreng, Minister of Information, has been waging for months. He complains that about 70 percent of the movies broadcast on Cambodian TV are produced in foreign countries. That percentage is too high, he said, and he’d like to see it reversed: 70 percent Cambodian, and 30 percent other. Cambodia, he said,“has its own rich civilization.’’
Like his counterparts worldwide, Ly Laysreng clucks about the poor quality of TV programming overall, and the fact that its potential as a mighty tool to teach the masses remains untapped.
“Television is supposed to broadcast information and culture, to educate the people,’’ and not just play movies and soap operas, he said.
He said he wants ministries to work more closely with TV to inform people about social programs and other public affairs. He estimated that “about 5 percent’’ of the ministries make even token efforts.
So that leaves the airwaves to the movies, mostly Chinese and Thai potboilers about gangsters or love. The TV stations say they run them because they are cheaper than Khmer films, there are more of them, and audiences like them better.
Pich Tun Kravel is particularly irked by foreign films that are remakes of Khmer stories or feature Cambodian characters twisted beyond recognition.
He cites a Thai production about an Apsara dancer, the much-loved symbol of Khmer grace and beauty. The movie depicted the Apsara “as a monster woman,’’ he says.
Pich Tun Kravel also faults Cambodian artists for being too willingly seduced by foreign culture.
Writers, he says, waste their time translating foreign popular songs that have little to do with Cambodia.
Both officials say the problem is one of proportion. If the nation were not flooded with foreign productions, they say, Cambodian audiences might have better perspective.
“If they understand their own culture well, then [foreign culture] will be an ingredient only,’’ rather than most of their diet, Pich Tun Kravel says.
Several TV executives say that while they support the idea of broadcasting more Cambodian material, there isn’t that much of it and it’s expensive. While it costs about $90 to buy a Thai movie from a distributor, but the rights to broadcast a Cambodian movie can cost as much as $1,500.
“If we have enough food, we would not eat foreigners’ food,’’ says Kham Poun Keomany, director general of Municipal Radio and TV 3. “But we do not have our own food, so we must eat the foreigners’ food.’’
But, he says, he’s not as likely to increase the amount of news programming, because “our local news is very boring to watch. Nobody wants to watch it.’’
General Neang Phat, director-general of TV 5, which is operated by the Defense Ministry, said he would like more Cambodian material, but can’t get it.
Whatever rules the Ministry of Information decides to set, he says, should be fair.
“If the Ministry of Information tells us to do [something], I will do it, because all TV stations are under the ministry’s control.’’