All quiet on the Eastern front…

May 25, 2015

The suffocating heat continues to enfold Phnom Penh in its brutal embrace: apart from waiting for the rainy season to start and give us all something else to moan about, nothing is happening here. A friend of mine asked me to take over his stringing position for one of the most prestigious news magazines in the world while he took a couple of months off. I was excited at first, but have come to realise that I won’t be getting my feet underneath the desk, because nothing is going to happen here at all.

Casting my mind back over the past few weeks, apart from the Russian gangster Sergei Polonsky finally getting booted out of the country (for overstaying his visa), very little of any import has happened here for weeks.

Sergey Polonsky on his way home.

Sergei Polonsky on his way home.

Indeed, the only story that stands out is one that involves a 13-year-old girl who was told that she was to be reunited with her mother on live television. The girl, Autumn Allen, who despite being Caucasian, sings in Khmer, appeared on a variety show called Penh Chet Ort (Like It or Not), and was told she would meet her mother, whom she hadn’t seen or heard from since she was six years old. However, after plenty of build up, a cross-dressing comedian appeared instead, to much hilarity in Cambodia, and much disgust across the Twittersphere. It does seem a bit heartless to target motherless 13-year-olds for a cheap laugh, but the media here can be a bit clueless.

Autumn Allen

Autumn Allen

The Autumn Allen debacle follows an equally stupid piece of media promotion by a local cinema chain for the mindless car-porn film Fast & Furious 7, that encouraged contestants to break the speed limit, and to take pictures of their speedometers as they drove as fast as possible. This is in a country where some six people die every day on the roads. Before the cinema pulled the competition, the fastest entry was 145kmh, or about 90 miles an hour, which might not seem that fast, but, trust me, if you think that, you haven’t seen the roads here. And the urban speed limit is 80kmh.

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Again, it was the Twittersphere that caused a backlash and apologies all round. Much as it pains me to say it, but it seems as if Facebook and Twitter might have a use after all, as a kind of corrective conscience.

So it’s something of a worry to see that the government has threatened criminal proceedings against Facebook users who insult or defame government leaders.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, in a post to his own Facebook page titled “A Letter Regarding Prejudiced and Unethical People,” claimed that some Facebook users have recently been abusing the freedom of expression they get online.

“In recent times, I have noticed that there have been some people who have used social media to use words that are rude, insulting, scornful, exaggerating and defaming toward civil servants,” Siphan said. “We will take any action, technical or legal, in order to maintain freedom and dignity in online use.”

Rude, insulting, scornful, exaggerating and defaming? Nope, can’t be having that…

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