The Ministry of Information and Ministry of Women’s Affairs are expected to implement a code of conduct today for media outlets reporting on violence against women – an effort to rein in journalistic practices that experts say harm and often demean victims.
Sok Leang, an adviser from the Club of Cambodian Journalists, whcih was involved in creating the code of conduct, said the initiative is part of a four-year National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women.
“Our research found that many media outlets show disrespect to women while reporting on cases of violence against women caused by publishing, broadcasting or showing disturbing or humiliating content, or reporting in a way that appears to be funny or mocking,” he said. “This prakas mainly targets protecting women’s reputation and dignity.”
Among its guidelines, the code forbids the publication of information, including pictures, which reveal victims’ or relatives’ identities in cases of violence against women. It also forbids the publication of pictures of women depicting death, injury or nudity, the use of certain offensive or disparaging words, including kchil chro’os and sahay smon, terms for women deemed irresponsible and the word for “love affairs”, respectively. Revealing the faces and identities of suspects is also forbidden.
The joint prakas does not mandate any penalties should media outlets fall afoul of the recommendations.
Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said violation of some points within the code are punishable through an existing 1995 Law on the Press. For example, a publication can be fined 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 riel (about $250 to $1,250) for the publication of nude photos or words that directly describe sexual acts. Any individual can also file a complaint to the court against a media outlet that publishes an article or photo that is “false and harms his or her honour and dignity”.
“This is a code of conduct, an agreed set of moral principles, not a law, so of course not all violations are punishable,” Kimseng said.
While some codes of conduct for the media – including one issued by the National Election Committee ahead of the recent commune elections – have been viewed as efforts to stifle the press, observers yesterday said the new code could curb harmful practices.
Ros Sopheap, the executive director of NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, welcomed the measure, hoping that it would improve both journalism and women’s rights.
“Many women are suffering from violence and all kinds of abuse,” she said. “They should not be victimised again by the media’s lack of respect and professional ethics.”
Pa Ngoung Teang, the executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, also praised the code of conduct but suggested the government issue a general code of conduct for everyone, not just focusing on treatment of women.