A second popular comedy troupe began airing sketches criticizing the country’s NGOs on Bayon TV June 13, this time accusing human rights groups of fabricating photographs and manipulating international donors.
The half-hour-long taped comedy sketch featuring the Krem comedians, led by Ou Ponarath, portrayed NGO workers and journalists staging fake scenes of poverty and forced evictions to present to their indifferent foreign donors who are ensconced in luxury hotels surrounded by local women and booze.
For more than a week, sketches performed live by another popular comedy troupe, Koy, have aired on Bayon, TV5 and CTN, in which the slap-stick performers satirize NGO workers in dialogues that center around the organizations setting up shop and enriching themselves by peddling an anti-government message that is favored by their foreign donors.
The new video from Krem shows NGO workers and a journalist paying a man to pose, dressed as a police officer, grabbing a villager by the hair and pointing a gun at his head in a staged forced eviction. Another man is paid to act as an evicted person, wearing rags and holding a piece of corrugated metal over his head.
The latest video also features two Western actors, both with Australian accents, who play the part of debauched foreign donors.
One of the Western actors, with long blond hair, is shown reading over an NGO report on eviction in a hotel room, with beautiful Cambodian women on both arms and a table full of alcohol nearby. He suggests visiting the site of staged eviction.
“It is very dangerous in Phnom Penh,” a translator for the NGO tells him in English. “No need to go out, because in this room we have a lot of things to play…. Please do not visit the site. Everything is in the report already.”
The staged photographs shown in the comedy program, particularly those involving fake police officers, bear a resemblance to those released by local human rights group Licadho after the 2007 eviction of 105 families from Mittapheap district in Preah Sihanouk Province.
Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, said Sunday that the program did not mention her organization by name.
“NGOs like Licadho operate to provide critical services in Cambodia and work with all stakeholders on legal/social reforms. Licadho does not/cannot fabricate info, photos, victims, and Licadho is always open to meetings, questions or request for clarifications from government, groups or individuals,” Ms Pilorge added by SMS text message.
Mr Ponarath, the Krem comedian, said by telephone Sunday that his sketch was more educational than comic.
“My stories always aim to educate people in the real world,” he said. “We produced this in order to show the public about some NGOs or communities and some journalists who just open institutions to get money for their own pockets,” he said.
“As you work as a journalist, you are more aware of this problem than I am,” he added.
Pen Samithy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said Sunday that he had decided to ignore the comedy programs.
“I don’t care now,” he said. “Let them do what they want until they are satisfied. It is not always good to respond.”
Chuong Chy, leader of the Koy troupe, has said that his skits were produced in response to allegations of corruption in the Cambodian government.
In a May 30 speech, US Ambassador Carol Rodley said that the Cambodian government loses up to $500 million in public funds every year because of corruption. The ambassador’s comment infuriated the government, which demanded a retraction. Three days later, Transparency International released its annual corruption barometer, which revealed that almost half of Cambodian families have paid bribes in the past year, as did three quarters of those who dealt with the country’s judicial system.
Soon after, the corruption debate began again in the broadcast media, but this time in the form of comedians making light of those drawing attention to the corruption issue.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson declined to comment Sunday.