The Ministry of Information has banned the broadcast of three popular radio songs, calling them “degrading to women,” though some criticize the move as ineffective and an infringement on free speech.
The songs “cannot be played in public or broadcast on the air—television or radio—because it devalues our Cambodian girls,” Information Minister Lu Laysreng said Monday.
Two songs—“Though You Have a Wife, I’ll Still Take You” and “The Odor of the Three-Colored Flower”—deal with the prevalent occurrence of men taking mistresses or “second wives.” The third song, “Kill Me With an Injection,” is a morbid portrayal of a disfigured woman who wants to die because her husband no longer finds her attractive.
The directive, signed by Lu Laysreng earlier this month, says some radio and television stations play the songs for entertainment, but “never care about the songs’ meanings, which devalue Khmer girls.” While the directive calls for a stop to broadcasting the songs, it does not indicate the penalty for failing to do so.
The ban comes on the heels of a rash of incidents against women, including an increase in acid attacks and the brutal gang rape last week of a mother of two.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said she supported the ban of songs which have “detrimental, negative” effects on society. She conceded that banning the songs probably wouldn’t make great progress in changing contemporary society, but said the move had “raised public consciousness.”
However, a ban on three specific songs may not be the best way to shape society, said Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy. He pointed out that there is no law to determine what would happen to a disc jockey who defied the ban, and called it ineffective to take such action with no law to back it. “That affects freedom of speech,” Lao Mong Hay said. He recalled an incident in China, when the communist country banned the play of Taiwanese songs. “It didn’t work,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state for the Information Ministry, said he did not agree with the ban. “We can’t police people’s minds,” he said.
Tiv Sarayeth, director of the Women’s Media Center, which monitors the portrayal of women in the media, said that in an uneducated country like Cambodia, where people are susceptible to mass media, sometimes measures like the ban are necessary.
“Generally, we support freedom of speech,” she said, adding a better solution would have been to educate broadcasters on the implications of their play selections. But in this case, she said, an individual’s right to expression is outweighed by the need for Cambodia to reform its view of women.
A Cambodian singer said the songs would not influence public opinion, but that they merely reflect the way things are. “The songs do not devalue Khmer women seriously,” Saing Sundany said. “But our Khmer people are [already] like that now.”
“Although You Have a Wife” is a story about a woman recently matured to “marrying age” who falls in love with a married man.
“Although you have a wife, I still love you,” the lyrics go. “Although I would not be the first wife, I still accept to be your second wife.”
“The Odor of the Three-Colored Flower” is a satirical indictment of the practice of high-ranking government officials taking on second wives. The singer asks rhetorically, “Which kind of woman doesn’t need a husband who has a new villa with a car, as well as a husband who is a [government] minister?…Which kind of woman does not want to be honored as the wife of a minister?”
“In fact,” she sings, “there’s no woman who wants to be a second wife.”
“Kill Me With an Injection” is a love story gone wrong, in which a woman and doctor marry during war. The woman must have her leg amputated after her village is bombed. Her disfigurement, she says, is the reason her husband no longer looks at her the same way, so she pleads with him to “kill me with an injection.”
(Additional reporting by Kimsan Chantara)