A long-in-the-works “code of conduct” for Cambodia’s artists and performers moved a step closer to reality yesterday, a fact that has prompted concerns of censorship from some in the artistic community.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts held a meeting yesterday to discuss the code, which is aimed at ensuring artists preserve Cambodian culture and national identity, officials said, and that they do not violate societal norms.
“Artists must think about how their behaviour affects society,” Minister of Culture Phoeung Sakona said. “We want to promote the artists in our country . . . [But] people are clever and they react to the way artists speak and behave.”
The most recent draft of the code, which has been in the works for more than a month, has 12 guidelines, four of which were released to the press yesterday.
Article 4 of the draft, for example, states that artists must be devoted to the Cambodian nation, religion and monarchy, similar to the oath of office sworn by members of Cambodia’s armed forces. It also stipulates that artists must maintain their dignity, and be moral and virtuous in their choice of words, gestures and dress.
Other parts of the draft obtained by the Post encouraged artists not to dress in sexy clothes, or to use curse words or insult people. Doctors and teachers abide by a code of conduct, Sakona said, and so it will be “very good” for artists to have one, too.
But members of Cambodia’s artistic community expressed concern yesterday that the new code would be used to censor their work and stifle creativity.
“There are so many things the Ministry of Culture should be doing other than focusing on a code of conduct,” said art curator Lomorpich Rithy. “They should focus on developing a program for traditional dance and art and providing performance spaces, not telling artists you can or can’t do this. That’s a way to make artists stifle and die.”
Ministry officials often comment on artists’ physical appearance, Rithy said, adding that the ministry instructs women to wear long skirts and men to have short hair.
Em Riem, a painter and fashion designer in Phnom Penh, agreed, saying the government often raises the spectre of national heritage as a way of exerting control over the country’s artists.
“Anytime you do something creative, they say it’s not Khmer, so we are very limited in our creativity,” Riem said. “The Ministry of Culture just isn’t very accepting, they ask women to change their dress; it’s very strange . . . And the criticism isn’t constructive, it’s to keep you down.”
Artists who violate the code will be called into the ministry to be reprimanded, and could be suspended from performing or exhibiting their work for an unspecified period of time, Sakona confirmed.
The ministry will host regular meetings to determine which artists should be brought in for a lecture, she said, adding that the ministry would not go so far as to arrest artists for their transgressions. That was small consolation to Rithy.
“If they tell us how to behave and what to wear, there will be fewer and fewer artists,” she said. “Art has no boundaries.”
But not everyone in the industry disagrees with the ministry’s proposal. Singer Doung Sokea, for example, said it’s “very good” for artists to abide by a set of rules so they consider the feelings of their audience.
And Chhay Bora, a representative of the film industry, said he supports the move, but hopes the code will be supplemented by additional training and support for artists who behave within the ministry’s guidelines.
For now, ministry officials will continue to work towards a final version of the draft. The code will then be passed to the Council of Ministers for approval before going into effect.