In a modern era, there are multiple communication tools for people to build a relationship. In Cambodia, TV-SMS chat programs are a new means for Cambodians, especially teenagers, to communicate with each other.
This program provides people with a space to make song requests, find friends and seek romance.
Today, the format is wildly popular, with TV-SMS chat programs now featured on four of the nine broadcast channels and two cable providers.
Ouk Chandaravuth, a cable channel human resources manager in Phnom Penh, said that TV-SMS chat is primarily used by Cambodians aged between 17 and 26. His channel currently has 10,000 users of the format.
TV-SMS chat programs do not need any documents from it players, but the themes and issues in the TV-SMS chat programs are generally about making friends and airing personal feelings, song dedications and birthday wishes.
“There are many messages, which we don’t put on our screen because players don’t follow our conditions,” said Sok Virakbotra, a production manager at MyTV. “Those messages contain political themes, business promotion, advertising and offensive language.”
Phala Somony, a 17 year-old high school student, said that she had been a player on TMS since 2010, and she really enjoyed making song requests and meeting friends, but says she has now moved away from the format.
“I stop playing it because it made me waste time and money. TMS is especially not a reliable way of making friends. They can cheat us anytime,” she said.
“Charming girl”, the nickname of a female teenager in Battambang Province said, “I knew my previous boyfriend from playing TV-SMS chat. I had a broken heart because my boyfriend cheated me. He told me he did not have any girlfriends, but he did.”
She added that after separating from him, she had posted her phone number aiming to find a new boyfriend on TV-SMS chat. Now, she is in a relationship again.
While this is just a small case, there is the potential for TV-SMS users to become victims of harassment, date rape, or other criminal acts if the broadcaster channel does not take measures to protect them.
Peou Chivoin, a sociologist and university lecturer, said if a program contains minors as an audience group, the broadcaster and the regulator have to take great care to protect them against these dangers.
“The broadcaster cannot be reckless when it comes to protecting the well-being of the minors and its audience in general,” he said. “The well-being of minors is of utmost importance.”
In response, Sok Virakbotra said that MyTV has done a lot of things to explain the risks to minors.
“We advertise their phone number, like magazines do, but we didn’t ask them to do so,” he said. “If they did, and they got trouble because of this, it is their responsibility.”
He added that if there were any serious problems, “we would seek out all phone number of players, which we have recorded in order to provide police with information to investigate.”
His Excellency Kim Kunavath, director of TVK, says that there has not been any negative reports about TV-SMS chat programs, which is why broadcast channels still run them as normal.
“If there are any serious problems, the Ministry of Information and the television community will take action,” he said.
To prevent issues, which can be happened on TV-SMS players, teenagers themselves have to be careful before building a relationship with strangers. Parents themselves also need to communicate with their children about the potential dangers.