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Research Reveals Cambodian Television Rife with Depictions of Violence Against Women

November 30, 2016

By Seila Sar

In a recent comedy show that aired on Cambodia’s Bayon television at the end of an All Stars Concert, a male comedian is seen repeatedly kicking and hitting his female counterpart with a piece of pipe. The live audience roars with laughter as the comedian continues the abuse throughout the three-and-a-half-minute segment.

A girl was repeatedly hit and kicked by a boy in a comedy segment of a popular weekend variety show called “Like it or Not?” (Source: The Asia Foundation’s Media Monitoring Research)

A girl was repeatedly hit and kicked by a boy in a comedy segment of a popular weekend variety show called “Like it or Not?” (Source: The Asia Foundation’s Media Monitoring Research)

In Cambodia, these depictions of violence against women (VAW) are common, underscoring how prevalent and accepted VAW is in both entertainment and in real-life. According to recent government figures, 28.7 percent of Cambodian ever-partnered women age 15-49 have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence.

In a nationwide media consumption survey conducted by the Cambodia Media and Research for Development (CMRD), 93 percent of respondents reported having watched television in the past three months, with 75 percent saying they watch it daily. A 2015 Asia Foundation secondary quantitative research study on risk and protective factors of intimate partner violence (IPV) found that Cambodians who watched TV were 178 percent more likely to be the victims of IPV than those who did not.

Earlier this year, The Asia Foundation conducted media monitoring research to examine VAW occurrences in the five largest national broadcasters in Cambodia: Bayon, CTN, Hang Meas, MyTV, and TV5 which, together, account for almost 80 percent of total viewership. The first six months into the research revealed that, across all the five channels monitored, 33 percent of aired programs from March to August 2016 contained scenes depicting VAW—either physical, sexual, or emotional. And, the research revealed that almost half of the drama programs aired on the five channels contained scenes depicting VAW. Cambodian people tend to prefer foreign dramas (Thai, Korean, and Indian) to Cambodian dramas. One popular Indian drama, Besdong Leak Snae, on MyTV contained at least one of the three types of VAW every 15 minutes, and consistently portrayed women as submissive. In Thai dramas, rape scenes are sometimes depicted as a precursor to romance, with female survivors shown later falling in love with their rapists.

Our research also reveals that Cambodian audiences appear to be highly desensitized to VAW on television. Despite 99 percent of households surveyed being exposed to VAW on TV during the survey period of two months, only 42 percent of households reported that they were able to recognize them as acts of VAW.

In most of the Cambodian comedies that were monitored, women most frequently play submissive roles with the use of obscene words and sexual harassment common in the scripts. Based on discussions with six focus groups on two comedy shows from the popular troop, Pekmi, about one-third of male watchers said they preferred having some sexualized words in the comedy to make the show more enjoyable.

Over half of music programs on two TV channels popular among Cambodian youth, MyTV and CTN, contained VAW, primarily in the form of physical violence and sex scenes and the use of offensive language toward women. The Ministry of Information recently banned two Cambodian songs from radio and TV, claiming the songs were too vulgar for broadcast in Cambodia due to the use of crude words that could be interpreted sexually.

In Cambodia, there are few controls on this kind of content. Aside from two circulars banning alcohol advertisements and foreign-made TV programs and films during prime time, there is no law that regulates television content in Cambodia. All genres of programs can currently be screened on TV at any time of the day regardless of the level of violent content. There is no rating system or warnings advising that content is unsuitable for children in place. In addition, TV programs are not pre-censored before broadcasting, per a press law adopted in 1995 that prohibited pre-censorship to “maintain the independence of the press.”

One outcome from the Cambodian Government National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women 2014-2018 is increased promotion of gender-equitable, non-violent media with appropriate reporting on VAW. With support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Australian government, The Asia Foundation is working with the Ministry of Information to develop a media code of conduct for reporting VAW and standard guidelines to regulate and control television program content overseen by a Media Advisory Group.

To effectively raise awareness of this important issue, citizens and civil society need to express their concerns regarding VAW content on TV. But arriving at a place where script writers and producers will reduce VAW content when producing new programs, and TV broadcasters will be required to review VAW content prior to purchasing or producing programs, will require broadcasters and producers to comply with soon-to-be-introduced media standards authorized by the Cambodian government. In addition, a sea-change in public thinking and a lot of work educating the viewers on the dangers will also be required. Only then will we see sustainable reduction of VAW content on Cambodian TV.

Seila Sar is a research officer for The Asia Foundation in Cambodia. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: Cambodia
Related programs: Empower Women, Strengthen Governance
Related topics: Media, Violence against Women

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