THE government’s morality committee will soon begin holding bimonthly meetings to review Web sites featuring racy images of Khmer women, and will consider blocking access to those deemed in conflict with national values, officials said Tuesday.
Ros Sorakha, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said Tuesday that representatives from local Internet service providers as well as mobile-phone companies would be present at the meetings, which she said would begin in about two months.
She added that the ramped-up monitoring of online content was necessary in light of the rapid growth of information and communications technology nationwide.
“As young Cambodians have access to such technologies, they indulge and commit wrongdoings that deviate from our customs and traditions by accessing and replicating erotic and pornographic pictures over Internet sites,” she said during the annual conference of the National Committee for Upholding Cambodian Social Morality, Women’s and Khmer Family Values.
The committee includes officials from the Post and Telecommunications Ministry as well as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Interior Ministry.
In her remarks, Ros Sorakha noted that officials have occasionally implemented similar measures in the past – including targeting magazines featuring “sexual” images of Cambodian women as well as shops in which such images can be uploaded onto mobile phones – but stated that the growing popularity of the Internet mandated a systematic effort aimed at Web sites.
“We are still concerned about it because nowadays the world has modern information and communication technology from developed countries, so it is difficult for us to fight it,” she said.
But the announcement renewed debate about whether the government should have a hand in filtering online content.
For his part, Oum Sarith, president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, said he had no problem with the shutting down of “pornographic sites” so long as other Web sites were not affected.
“I think it’s good if they close down the pornographic sites if they don’t close other sites that are not offensive,” he said. “This is not of concern for freedom of information or freedom of the press because these sites are not good for Khmer society.”
But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), said he was concerned about the proposed monitoring effort.
“It depends on how they implement it,” he said. “The fear is that they’ll use this to censor the Internet and that they will move on to political content. If they block users, that could be very, very dangerous.”
Ou Virak said he doubted that the effort could be effective. “I’m not sure if blocking access to Internet sites is going to work, because of the presence of VCDs, which are available very cheaply. That could be very easily controlled, and it’s not – they’re being sold in public,” he said.
He also said that pornography transmitted by mobile phone was a more persistent problem in rural areas, where Internet access is limited.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi, who is also president of the morality committee, said the monitoring of objectionable Web sites is entirely consistent with its mission.
“If we can stop the flow and influence of foreign culture, then we can maintain our own culture and traditions and foster values for our women.”
The effort to block Web sites featuring steamy images of Cambodian women is not entirely new. On Tuesday, Ros Sarakha pointed to the government’s decision to prevent local Internet service providers from allowing access to www.reahu.net, the Web site of the Khmer-American artist Koke Lor.
Ros Sorakha said the site, which displays paintings of scantily clad Khmer folktale figures, was blocked early last year “so that it wouldn’t affect Cambodian women’s dignity, society and culture”, adding that the site remained blocked.
But the Web site was accessible yesterday from a computer connected with the MekongNet service provider. Sonak Kouy, assistant CEO at MekongNet, said the service provider was not among the major providers operating in Cambodia when the site was targeted by the government, and thus had not been asked to block access to www.reahu.net.
“Now our engineers are working on it, and it will be blocked later today,” Sokan Kouy said Tuesday afternoon. The site was still accessible on Tuesday evening.