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Rights group: Cambodia Cellcard ad discriminatory against LGBT people

in CAMBODIA, 10/03/2014

Cambodia’s second largest telecom provider Mobitel – operator of the Cellcard network – released a TV commercial poking fun at transgender people and consequently upsetting many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The spot had its debut on the social network Facebook, where it received 323 likes, 144 shares and a mountain of  “LOL’s“ from Cambodian users, who but for one exception found it very amusing.

 The commercial, titled “Blind Date“, opens with a young man calling his companion-to-be on a cell phone. He never met her before and with his imagination running wild, he fantasises about a woman one would more likely see in a blockbuster movie than walking down the street. Sadly, he cannot hear her very well – his telephone connection is breaking up. He waits for her at a Cafe where he makes acquaintance with another youth awaiting his sweetheart. The protagonist‘s phone rings again. His date is on the phone, but he still cannot hear her. Finally, the moment of anticipation is over. She arrives and to the visible discontent of the leading character she is not the girl he envisaged. Instead, she is a transgender person. Now his counterpart’s girlfriend enters and she very much fits the part. Before the curtain falls, the young man warns: “to avoid disappointing results like this, choose Cellcard !“ Funny? Not to everyone.

Nuon Sidara, project coordinator at Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), sent a letter to Kith Meng, director of Mobitel (also known as CamGSM), requesting that his company re-edits the commercial to remove the transgender character. Mr. Meng holds a majority stake in Cambodia Television Network, where the ad is aired on a daily basis, and is the CEO of the conglomerate Royal Group – the parent company of CamGSM.

In his letter to the business tycoon, Mr. Sidara argued that referring to disappointing results in the context of relations with transgender people is right out discriminatory. “Even if this video is trying to prove that your company is better than other companies, talking about disappointing results at the end of the commercial discriminates against transgender people. Please re-consider the true meaning of this commercial in order to avoid discriminating against LGBT people and violating their human rights,“ the letter read. Sidara’s appeal is yet to be answered by Kith Meng.

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