Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi’s admission last week that she was unable to name a Cambodian woman journalist sparked a minor controversy on social media, with current and former journalists taking to social media to criticise her remarks.
During an event launching a study on Cambodian women in the media on Thursday, Kantha Phavi took time to highlight the work of well-known female journalists, but failed to name a female Cambodian journalist saying she tried to research but couldn’t find one.
Kuch Naren, an assignment editor at Koh Santepheap Media and a former Cambodia Daily journalist, on Sunday said she walked out of the event during Kantha Phavi’s speech.
“For me, I just felt so much sorrow for her for not knowing any outstanding Cambodian women journalists although she’s been a Women Affairs Minister for years,” she wrote in a message. “I can say that there have been a number of great Cambodian women journalists who have exposed many unreported stories such as trafficking women [for] marriage [in] China, land-grabbing and corruption and they are known by international audiences.”
One example, she said, is fellow Daily alumna Phorn Bopha, who has received the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Media Foundation for her reporting on illegal logging, she said. Bopha was in the forest with environmental activist Chut Wutty when he was shot dead by Military Police in 2012 near a protected area where he had repeatedly tried to expose illegal logging.
Another Cambodian female journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was “pissed off” by Kantha Phavi’s comments. “Maybe she didn’t do research at all,” she said. “There are a few female journalists that have become accomplished and that I admire and follow their work.”
The journalist also pointed to Bopha as an example. “To me, she’s my hero,” the reporter said.
Bopha, however, said she wasn’t angry with the minister’s comments.
“I think it’s funny because I have so many female colleagues working in Cambodia and I also have friends who are female journalists,” she said in a message.
Bopha received a journalism fellowship in the US last year and is now interning for the AP in New York.
Reached on Sunday, Kantha Phavi said “there is no interview by phone”, and asked for an email to be sent to her ministry, but hung up before providing an address.
Ministry spokesman Pon Putborei said Kantha Phavi “meant that Cambodia hasn’t yet had internationally well-known female journalists”, but she acknowledged the importance of promoting an increased number of women in the media.