The promotional clip, which has been playing regularly for weeks on Hang Meas Television, lasts less than a minute.
In it, popular comedian Prum Manh is seen demanding of a friend with whom he is speaking on the phone – one with a pronounced speech impediment – “Why are you not clear?”
It’s played for laughs, but the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation (CDPO) isn’t laughing.
After seeing the clip, Ngin Saorath, a director at CDPO, sent a letter to the television station on Wednesday, asking the company to stop broadcasting the content because it was “against the [UN’s] Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities”, ratified by the Kingdom in 2012.
“No reply has been made to us. The show has made disabled people indignant. It’s the same as looking down on them,” said Saorath. “It’s becoming normal for [people] with disabilities in Cambodia to be mocked in art and shows for fun, so our NGO is trying to raise awareness,” he added.
Laurie Clarke, a pediatric speech and language therapist working for Indigo, a child-development clinic in Phnom Penh, said such clips could be harmful.
“Speech disabilities often lead to social isolation, and mocking people struggling with a disability like that in a public setting could make it doubly isolating. Advertising like this can be very destructive,” Clarke said.
“This also perpetuates a general misunderstanding that a disability like this can be helped, but speech impairments are often caused by underlying issues like a psychological trauma or neurological issue.”
But according to media analyst Chhean Narriddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, discriminatory commentary against disabled Cambodians isn’t widespread in mainstream media.
“The public’s awareness of Cambodians living with disabilities is already so low, especially in the more rural areas, that this kind of behaviour isn’t typical. It’s important for everyone to keep in mind that this is an entertainer not a journalist. He doesn’t have to stick to a code of ethics,” Narriddh said.
About 600,000 Cambodians are affected by communication and swallowing disorders, according to Weh Yeoh, a former disability consultant for Capacity Building of People with a Disability in the Community Organization (CABDICO).
“There is so little funding and general awareness around the issue that there are probably less than 1,000 people actually in [speech therapy] treatment,” Yeoh said.
Oeung Song Leap, a general manager for Hang Meas Television, said yesterday that while he had yet to see any letter from CDPO, he understood the objections being voiced.
“No problem. We will cut this part so we [continue] to respect the rights of disabled people. We always educate artists to avoid anything discriminatory but some mistakes can’t be avoided,” Song Leap said.
The government’s Disability Action Council (DAC) could not be reached.
Manh, the star of the clip, expressed support for Cambodians with a disability yesterday and pointed out that this particular performance was performed three years ago.
“I’m sorry it’s still being screened on TV. I hope they remove this clip. I realised three years ago since I performed this about disabled people that it’s not good,” he said.