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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Let’s keep the language civil

Let’s keep the language civil

130117 16
Some decorum, please: Prime Minister Hun Sen, pictured in the National Assembly, should encourage a less offensive style of public and political debate, Tong Soprach writes. Photograph: Reuters

Should Cambodia have a code of ethics and a language standard for its leaders’ public utterances?

The election season isn’t far away, so our political representatives are trying to find ever more outrageous words to ridicule one another.

And it’s not confined to politicians; independent analysts or researchers are often on the receiving end of barbs such as Ah lak nguong vituo (a PhD in idiocy), Ah monuos la nguong (ignorant), Ah bandit tumpek (bald-headed PhD), Bit thvea vay chhke (closing the door to hit the dog) and Cham te ban chuo srok vinh tov ah va (don’t expect to return to the country, you!).

This prejudicial language is echoed by subordinates such as quick-reaction groups and political analysts appearing on television or speaking on radio.

At every opportunity, they let fly with  insults like Kae noeng (that person), Puok (those persons), Monuos (this person) and Ak kate (negative-minded).

Do they think they’re the only people in Cambodia who are Kate (positive-minded)?

According to the dictionary of Patriarch Chuon Nath, the term Ak kate means “prejudice” and the third meaning is “prejudice caused by ignorance”.  

Why do commentators or analysts on television use insulting language? Sometimes their words are even stronger than those of cabinet ministers or provincial governors, and it seems they regard their audiences as less educated than them.

Opposition-party leaders who fancy themselves as highly educated people also hit back at their rivals strongly, using terms such as Ah yorng yuon (Vietnam’s puppet), Ah kbal yuon khluon khluon khmer (Khmer body, Vietnamese head), Chun phdach ka (dictator), Puok uk krit chun (criminal), Puok puk roluoy duol chak oeng (those who have corruption in their bones) and Puok luok cheat (nation-seller).

All of these, and more, will be trotted out in the upcoming election campaign.

According to the Constitution adopted after the first national election in 1993, organised by UNTAC, every Cambodian citizen has the right to express his or her opinions publicly.

But the use of language must also have a code of ethics.

The right to express one’s opinions doesn’t mean our leaders have the power to spray inappropriate words, insults and violent language at all and sundry.

Our leaders and politicians must use proper, appropriate, polite words, because they are setting an example for Khmer citizens – especially children and young people, who are easily influenced.

Sometimes, when there is a strong reaction from the victims, there is a change in behaviour.

Witness the recent case of Cambodian People’s Party parliamentarian Chheang Vun, who apologised to the Phnong indigenous minority for calling them cruel people.

Some political leaders’ use of offensive, insulting or violent language may be a hangover from the Pol Pot regime — three years, eight months and 20 days of genocidal cruelty — because the ancient Khmers had highly civilised and polite manners.

They used language that demonstrated respect for one another, for their elders and their peers. They didn’t use words like Haeng (you!!) , Anh (I!!) or Ah moeng (it!!).

Nor did they compare other people with wild animals, implying they were regarded as being at the bottom of the social scale.

Although Cambodia now has a National Center for Promoting Social Morality, our leaders don’t let that trouble them.

Recently, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith urged television channels and radio stations, as well as newspaper editors, to provide training courses for reporters and commentators so they could learn how to use appropriate, professional language.

But there are some local newspapers, and a few television commentators and analysts, that still use inappropriate language. Perhaps they think they have more power than the Minister.

Apart from anything else, complying with a code of ethics imbues people such as monks and researchers, and professionals such as judges, teachers and medical doctors, with a good attitude and helps them set an example for others in the community through their work.

In addition, the Council of Ministers last week approved a code of ethics for midwives, some of whose poor behaviour has adversely affected women who sought their services at public, as well as private, facilities.

So when will there be a code of ethics for our high-ranking leaders and politicians, obliging them to promote the social morality for which the nation’s leader should be the role model?

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

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