TV5 Watering Down Culture, Officials Say

Station’s Stage at Festival Criticized

Khmer dance or live boxing? Traditional storytelling or Thai actresses?

Crowds attending the Water Festival this weekend will be able to make that choice at the Plow­ing Ground, the open space be­tween the Royal Palace and the National Museum.

This year, for the first time, municipal and palace officials have agreed to allow TV5 to stage free daily entertainment at the site, which in the past has been reserved for major civic and cultural events, such as the Royal Plowing Ceremony.

And while Ministry of Culture of­ficials predict a disaster, TV5 executives say that when it comes to entertainment, the more the merrier.

TV5 is paying for the privilege, but nobody would say how much. The station has built a number of structures and is installing sound and lighting equipment to handle an ambitious schedule of boxing, movies, concerts and fashion shows featuring Cambodian and Thai performers.

But culture officials say the station’s plans threaten to drown out their own efforts to promote and preserve traditional Khmer culture—an effort Prime Minister Hun Sen has strongly supported.

They also note family members of boat racing crews will not be able to sleep in the park, as they have in years past.

“It is not the right thing to make such a decision,” fumed Hang Soth, director of the department of art at the Ministry of Culture. “The big people thought of the money, not about the fate of the nation.”

He says the ministry’s plans for a four-day national competition in the classic Khmer arts of storytelling, music and singing, set to run every night after the racing concludes, will restore the nation’s sense of self.

“At present, both big and small people are living without soul,” he fretted. “A number of officials have been poisoned by dollars and Thai baht. We are suffering over this.”

Television officials, however, say they will be providing popular entertainment for everyone and they don’t understand what the fuss is about.

“Entertainment is international,” Srirat Noochniyom, managing director of TV5, said of his lineup, which will include popular Thai actors and singers as well as their Cambodian counterparts.

“We try to match our program with the Ministry of Culture and are ready to provide assistance and support. It is good that we have both pop and traditional shows.”

Although details of the schedules were sketchy Wednesday, it looks as though TV5 will provide entertainment each day from 10 am until midnight. Boxing matches will be held during the day, and so will not conflict with the evening’s cultural offerings.

The difficulty will come after dark, when the traditional arts competitions square off against concerts by popular singers.

“Our program will be definitely disturbed,” Hang Soth said. “It is difficult to judge the competitors [and] we do not know how to work it out.”

Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said he is confident they will find a way. “Both sides should compromise on their programs,” he said.





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