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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Group to lobby against obscene images of women

Group to lobby against obscene images of women

OBSCENE images of women in mainstream newspapers has prompted the formation of a

home-grown activist Media Watchdog Group (MWG).

The group was formed Jan 13 by women from newspapers, magazines, radio, television,

human rights groups and other state and private organizations during a seminar on

women and the media in Phnom Penh.

MWG, which will initially number twenty women professionals, will be part of a campaign

of the Women's Media Center of Cambodia [WMC] to replace the dominant negative portrayal

of women in Khmer media with more positive coverage.

"If we just stand still, this [the obscene images of women] will continue to

happen," Tiv Sarayeth, coordinator for MWG coordinator and WMC representative,


Sarayeth said MWG would meet and discuss ways of fighting any examples of sexist

and pornographic coverage of women in the media.

WMC conducted a two-week survey in May last year on three of the largest circulation

newspapers and found a "drastic" amount of pornographic content.

Of 957 specific items in the three newspapers, only 59 pieces dealt with women's

issues - and almost a quarter of these were novels, photographs and drawings that

portrayed women as sex objects.

Sarayeth said the printing of naked women in the papers had greatly degraded the

values of both Khmer and other women, and that it had made many people very angry.

"After reading a paper, some parents would hide it under the pillow so that

their children wouldn't see it," said Sarayeth.

Sarayeth said the obscene portrayal of women in newspapers "had gone too far",

until even the government had taken a stand against it.

The Ministry of Information passed a regulation in December, 1994, ordering all editors

to withdraw pornographic materials from their publications. The ministry said it

would take "measures" to close down any publications that refused to obey.

However, according to Sim Chanya, editor of Khmer Women's Voice magazine, the regulation

had only worked for a short time before the newspapers and magazines returned to

their old practices.

Chanya, who is also a member of the Khmer Journalists' Association's Council of the

Code of Ethics, said the KJA's code did not seem to be effective either since many

newspapers and magazines had not followed the advice.

The women also complained about a lack of more positive reporting of women issues

in general.

"Women are in the news only when they are raped and killed, or commit suicide

because of hopeless love," the survey quoted veteran journalist Khoun Sodary,

editor of the state-run Pracheachun newspaper.

She said women would appear on page two and three of newspapers in serial novels

that deal with "man and woman meet, fall in love... and stories about how to

have sex."

Trying to intervene in the issue, KJA's second deputy president Pon Bun Song, who

was also at the seminar, foresaw difficulties in the efforts to clamp down on the

unpleasant coverage of women in the media.

"In my opinion, prohibiting this is just like denying human rights," he


He said the MWG should follow the model of advanced countries and allow the press

to continue their choice.

"They let an obscene book be published, but it must be sold in a certain way

- for instance, not too openly," said Bun Song.

He said that there should not be an absolute ban on the sexual portrayal of women

in the media so that they could use it to tell people to avoid following bad examples.

"We say a story of a murdered woman in the paper is negative, but if we know

how to write the article telling that the killing is brutal and unjust it can help

reduce this," Bun Song said.

Many participants at the workshop pointed at the low employment of women in the media

for the lack of coverage of women's issues.

According to the Ministry of Information's statistics as of June, 1995, there are

only 42 women of the total 390 people working in the Phnom Penh-based press. Beside

the fact that most of these women are employees in government-owned media, only about

half of them actually work as writers or re-writers.



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