Ministry ‘Powerless’ in VOD Online Abuse Case

Photo: Pheng Vannak's Facebook account

PHNOM PENH – The Information Ministry said it has no power to act over Facebook personality Pheng Vannak’s misogynistic comments about a woman VOD journalist because it is an individual matter.

Vannak criticized a woman journalist at the now-closed VOD after her story on Feb. 9 that Hun Sen's oldest son Hun Manet had authorized $100,000 in quake aid to Turkey. VOD later admitted the story was wrong.

Vannak wrote in Khmer on his Facebook page, “As a young girl, but with a wild character…with such a cheap character, whoever marries you would be finished…”

Civil society groups working on women’s rights criticized a Women’s Affairs Ministry announcement about female verbal harassment as too general.

On Feb. 16, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs issued an announcement, expressing regret and disapproval of any actions that are violent, immoral, and detrimental to the honor, and dignity of Cambodian women.

The announcement was made without referring to any specific case, assessing that the activities that undermined the honor and values of Cambodian women set a bad example for the next generation.

“The abusive and immoral use of words on social media by a small number of individuals undermines the honor and dignity of women as well as discredits the public in the efforts of the government, which is always considerate and focused on the promotion and protection of the rights of all women without discrimination,” the statement said.

Chim Channeang, general secretary of NGO CEDAW, welcomed the ministry’s stance of not supporting harassment and insults against women, but said the statement sounded too generalized and did not respond to the civil groups’ demand in an open letter on Feb. 14.

She said if this case remained unresolved without justice for the female journalist, society would face consequences of continuously undermining women’s value and dignity.

“What we can do is keep demanding the relevant ministry to impose the specific action against the perpetrator to be an example in the future,” said Channeang. “The perpetrator must be held accountable for his actions.”

Bunn Rachana, executive director of Klahaan organization, echoed Channeang’s remark, applauding the statement of the women’s affairs ministry but said it was too generalized.

Ministries have a role to create a favorable social environment where people respect each other and journalists, especially female journalists, are being respected as human beings, she said.

“The Women’s Affairs Ministry speaks out too generally, as if not responding to the real situation,” said Rachana. “It is a failure to implement the guidelines for reporting cases of violence responsibly.”

She added that it was time for the ministry to take action and summon Pheng Vannak for instruction.

Secretary of State for the Ministry of Information Pen Bona said the ministry was not responsible for Vannak’s action because he expressed his opinion on his personal Facebook account, not on his news website. It, thus, was solely an individual case.

“We need to distinguish between news coverage and personal expression,” Bona said.

“The ministry sees that what Pheng Vannak wrote is within the framework of the individual matter, not within the framework of the journalistic profession. So, the ministry has no right to interfere with personal matters.”

He said the ministry had not ignored the case and never encouraged insults.  I had summoned Vannak on the morning of Feb. 16, instructing him to be cautious in the language used on social media not to affect other people. The ministry asked him earlier to remove the statement from his Facebook account.

“From now on, the responsibility is of Vannak himself. If any side thinks that they are affected and not happy with that, please confront Vannak through the legal mean or at any means,” he said.

Chim Channeang of NGO CEDAW said that filing a lawsuit would give the female victim a hard time confronting the case, calling on the Women’s Affairs Ministry to support the victim.

Bunn Rachana of Klahaan said the ministry’s legal team should act as a plaintiff on behalf of the female.

She said a separate team supporting such cases should be created so that women who do not want to confront the judiciary can have their harassment cases solved within the team.

Chim Channeang said Vannak’s misogynistic behavior indicated his limited involvement in training about gender-sensitive reporting, asking the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs working group on the Media Code of Conduct jointly created in 2017 to help the victim by giving her justice.

“We hope the committee of the Code of Conduct thoroughly reviews the case to give justice to the victim,” she said.

Pen Bona said the Information Ministry has the role to conduct training for journalists but does not have the right to force individuals to attend. The ministry will keep providing training to strengthen the profession.

Vannak has said he was not wrong and would not apologize.

Related Articles