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
"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
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.