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Soaps for development

Dear Editor,

While we tend to agree with many of the statements in the article about the effect

of Thai TV on Khmer culture (Post, Jan 16 - 29, pg. 16), please allow us to correct

the impression the article appears to convey, that there are no high quality, modern

television dramas or soap operas being produced in Cambodia. The Women's Media Center

of Cambodia has produced two high-quality dramas this year as part of its weekly

television program, which is broadcast weekly on three stations in Phnom Penh and

carried by provincial television services throughout Cambodia. These soap operas

have been received extremely well by Cambodian audiences, supporting a study done

on the social effects of television done by Conor Weir in 1996 which found that when

the Khmer product is available, Khmer audiences actually prefer it to imported television

programs. We would agree with the Minister of Culture that finance is the main stumbling

block in regard to the development of Cambodian television and film dramas.

The first of WMC's soap opera series this year focused on the lives of six young

Cambodian women and dealt with many issues such as the effect on children of gambling,

violence and drinking within the family. Among other issues it also covered the importance

of education for young women, the over-indulgence of children with material goods,

the need for parents to provide moral guidance to their children, the dangerous possibilities

of being lured into a career as a karaoke star, relationships between young people

and many more. The series introduced six new "stars" to Khmer television

who became instantly popular, and it was very well received by young people. Furthermore,

a Cambodian singer-songwriter wrote the theme song for this series and she now reports

many nightly requests for the song from audiences in the restaurants and nightclubs

where she performs.

We would like to make the point that seems to have been glossed over in your article,

that the culture of any country is never static. Culture is ever-changing, but it

is up to the people of the country, in this case Cambodia, to decide which aspects

of their culture they wish to retain and which need to be changed in the interests

of social development. We at WMC believe that the traditionally low status of women

in Cambodian society needs to be altered for many reasons. These include empowering

half of Cam-bodia's population to participate fully in the reconstruction and development

of Cambodia. Therefore, the second soap opera series made by WMC this year focused

on the lives of two young couples, and dealt almost exclusively with relationship

issues. It attempted to make the point that if women have equal status and respect

before and during marital relationships, innumerable social and economic benefits

flow through to the family and the entire country.

WMC's third soap opera is currently in production, and deals with the participation

of women in politics at every level - within personal/family relationships, within

the workplace and within organizations and institutions. Generally, it will encourage

increased political participation by Cambodian women through the use of positive

role models in realistic Cambodian settings.

WMC has been aware for some time that all its television and radio productions are

very popular with Cambodian audiences. We know this through direct feedback from

audiences who write us letters and telephone our talkback radio programs, and from

the number of requests we receive from NGOs involved in social development work for

copies of our programs. However, a substantial audience research survey recently

completed on our behalf by IMIC also provided a very high approval rating (96%) for

WMC productions, especially dramas. WMC will continue to work towards fulfilling

that request. Dramas already planned this year will cover women and issues of environment,

poverty, labor and the forthcoming national elections.

- Tive Sarayeth, Som Khemra, Nuth Rasy, Poan Phuong Bopha, Chea Sundaneth,

Co-Directors, WMC.



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