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A Cellcard employee uses his mobile phone outside the company’s service centre on Norodom Boulevard
A Cellcard employee uses his mobile phone outside the company’s service centre on Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Cellcard advert questioned

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) is calling out telecommunications firm Mobitel over a TV ad that shows a young Cambodian man who is shocked and dismayed when he meets, on a blind date, what appears to be a transgender woman.

Lasting about 60 seconds, the commercial for Mobitel’s Cellcard network went up on the company’s Facebook page in late January and has aired regularly for weeks on the Cambodian Television Network (CTN).

In the ad, a man arranges his meeting over a poor mobile connection, and once the real date shows, he looks crushed. The beautiful woman of his fantasies arrives to meet another guy at a nearby table, and the blind-dater gazes over in envy.

The conclusion arrives with these words: “To avoid disappointing results like this, choose Cellcard!”

After seeing the commercial, Nuon Sidara, project coordinator for the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project, sent a letter to Kith Meng, the CEO of Mobitel’s parent company, Royal Group, which also owns CTN.

The letter requested that the company “reconsider the content” and not make links between “disappointing results” and transgender people.

In an email yesterday, Sidara said that the commercial, despite targeting Cambodia’s youth, did not reflect the younger generation’s values regarding same-sex issues and transgender rights.

He upped the ante and called on Cellcard to completely remove the advert, while ensuring that future ads respect human rights and refrain from discriminating against anyone, including Cambodians in the LGBT community.

“Corporate advertising can have a major impact in influencing how people perceive certain issues, and thus, in combating human rights abuses. Specifically with regards to LGBT rights, it is important to portray LGBT people without using harmful and untrue stereotypes, which only serve to further alienate them from society,” Sidara said.

“While it may not be an every day thing that LGBT people are discriminated against in advertising campaigns, it does happen often enough to be an issue,” he added, citing a past CCHR recommendation to the government for a public-complaints procedure whereby people are able to freely express their concerns over offensive content.

Meng has yet to respond to Sidara’s letter. Someone identifying himself as Meng’s assistant declined to comment after being reached over the phone yesterday.

Cellcard CEO Ian Watson did not say whether the ad, which was produced by local advertising and marketing firm Phibious, would be edited or revoked.

He did say, however, that the mobile service operator had not foreseen any backlash from the spot.

“Cellcard never envisaged that the advert would be in any way deemed offensive. It was promoted to highlight how good and clear our network quality is against that of our competitors,” he said. “Our post-market research shows that the general public found the advert funny, not offensive.”

Phibious, the Phnom Penh-based advertising agency that devised the commercial, did not respond to requests for comment.

As of yesterday afternoon, the “blind date” ad had received 323 Likes on Cellcard’s Facebook page, with comments that described it as a “super funny video” and “cool”. One user posted “Hahhaaha.”

However, there were others who did not find the video super funny.

Tana, an LGBT activist at rights group Rainbow Community Kampuchea, came across Cellcard’s advert on YouTube.

“I personally do not like the video at all,” said Tana, who goes by one name. “We understand that LGBT are not valued in society, and that concept is depicted very clearly in the video. The company just degrades LGBT in the video.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHAN MUY HONG

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