The Ministry of Women’s Affairs expressed its dismay regarding the use of inappropriate and immoral language on social media by a small number of individuals. It considered these acts as having damaged the honour and dignity of Cambodian women as well as being detrimental to the government’s efforts.

The ministry’s calls followed strong public reaction to a social media post by Pheng Vannak, a commentator known for his “Pheng Vannak News” Facebook page, that allegedly insulted a former female newsreader at the now-defunct Voice Of Democracy (VOD) on February 11. The controversy centred around a VOD news report titled “Government official said it was not wrong for Hun Manet to play his father’s role in providing aid to Turkiye.”

“The women’s affairs ministry feels regret and does not support any actions that involve violent and immoral language that is harmful to women’s value and dignity, as well as providing a bad model for youth and children of the next generation . . . The ministry would like to call on all parties to the dispute to settle it peacefully and to refrain from using abusive or immoral words, in order to resolve their issues responsibly,” it said.

On February 14, a group of 40 NGOs and community organisations issued an open letter to women’s affairs minister Ing Kantha Phavi, information minister Khieu Kanharith, culture and fine arts minister Phoeurng Sakona, as well as post and telecommunications minister Chea Vandeth to express their dissatisfaction with Vannak’s statements.

The letter requested measures against Vannak for using inappropriate language and for insulting and harassing female journalists.

“In order to give justice to women who have been abused and harassed and to provide a good model for society, the women’s affairs and information ministries’ working group on reporting violence against women should take action against Pheng Vannak in order to change his practices in accordance with the media code of conduct for reporting violence against women and preventing any publication that embodies insulting content against women and individuals of any gender identity,” the open letter stated.

The letter also requested that the ministries order Vannak to admit his mistake, correct his insulting words and make a public apology to the journalist and the public for his “immoral” act. It also requested that Vannak attend a training course on reporting information about gender to gain a better understanding of the journalism sector as well.

Chhun Hak, director-general of Gender Equality and Economic Development at the women’s affairs ministry, told The Post briefly that the ministry’s statement was intended for individuals who use words and acts that affect the dignity and value of women.

Pen Bona, secretary of state at the information ministry, told The Post on February 16 that because Vannak posted the inflammatory words on his private Facebook page, the ministry could not intervene due to separations between personal and professional expression.

“First, Vannak posted on his Facebook page, which is not a news website. So it’s a personal issue that he needs to be responsible for himself. The ministry cannot mix personal matters with work. However, the ministry has invited Vannak for a discussion and asked him to delete his post,” he said.

Vannak hung up on a reporter and did not answer repeated calls when reached by The Post for comment on February 16.