Public Grows Weary of Anti-NGO, Politicized Comedy

After more than a week of anti-NGO comedy sketches broadcast on national television, many Phnom Penh residents said Monday that they wished their much-loved performer would keep politics out of comedy.

The most recent program, performed by the Krem comedy troupe and aired for the first time Saturday on Bayon TV, portrayed wealthy NGO workers and journalists staging fake evictions and scenes of poverty to dupe their foreign donors, who were portrayed as womanizing lushes who never leave their fancy hotel rooms during visits to Cambodia.

Previously, the Koy comedy troupe had performed live sketches depicting NGO workers as rich scammers who receive funding from international donors for the sole purpose of criticizing the government.

“I want to see comedians doing something educational, not political,” Daun Penh district resident Chheng Noy, 68, said on Mon-day, adding that she switched the channel when the sketches started last week.

Lihov, a tuk tuk driver, said that he caught about 10 minutes of the Bayon program on Saturday night, and it didn’t make him laugh.

“It made me scared…I don’t want the comedies to continue,” he said, adding that he used to work for an NGO.

“They follow the rules,” he said of NGOs. “This comedy is not true. It affects seriously the honor of NGOs.”

Sokha Santanea, 26, a barber, said that he had not seen the programs, but doubted that NGO workers could be more corrupt than government officials.

“Maybe only 1 percent of NGO people are corrupt, but many people in the government do corruption,” he said.

It was also misleading to portray NGO workers as more wealthy than government officials, because even distant relatives of people in the government seem to be rich, he added.

“If someone doesn’t have relatives in the government, they graduate from school and can’t find employment,” Mr Santanea said.

Mab, a moto-taxi driver, said that he did not believe that NGOs in Cambodia were deceiving their international donors. “The NGOs also help Cambodians to have stronger rights,” he said.

However, tuk-tuk drive Mom said he was still pondering the implications of the comedy shows, as he agreed that it was possible to fake pictures of evictions.

“They could do that. It’s hard to say,” he said of such pictures.

One woman, who asked not to be named, said she found the Bayon program entertaining. “I just watched it because it was funny,” she said. “I don’t care about politics. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong.”

And a Western man who overheard reporters asking questions about NGOs on Monday shouted that the NGO acronym really stands for “No-Good Opportun-

ists.” He said that NGOs in Cambodia take money to pay for expensive SUVs:

“Not a penny goes to feed the children.”

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Monday by telephone that people need to understand the comedies.

“They play for fun, and sometimes they just try to educate the public. It is their right to play.”

He added that the comedians portrayed the activities of NGOs accurately.

“Forty-five percent of funds reach the people’s hands and 55 percent is used to pay for hotels and to buy luxury cars like Land Cruisers.”

When asked about corruption and the luxury cars that government officials drive, he said, “There is corruption in Cam-

bodia. We have tried to counter it, step by step.”

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said that he had only read about the comedy programs, which also showed unnamed opposition lawmakers conspiring with NGOs.

“The media should be neutral. They should be independent of politics,” he added.

Mr Sovann said that the television stations should now present the responses of NGOs and international donors.

“[The comedians] can express their opinion, but the TV should get balanced information.”

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