Cambodia has accepted a North Korean request to ban the broadcast of “The Interview,” a Hollywood film which portrays a fictional assassination of the reclusive nation’s leader Kim Jong Un, but critics say Phnom Penh’s move is unconstitutional and could backfire and generate more interest in the comedy film.
In a statement dated Jan. 20 and released to the media on Sunday, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the North Korean Embassy had urged authorities to remove pirated DVDs of the film from domestic markets, and forbid television stations and cinemas from showing the comedy.
“The [Democratic People’s] Republic of North Korea sent a diplomatic note [on Jan. 8] protesting that ‘The Interview,’ which insults its leader, was copied from the Internet and distributed at a few markets in Cambodia,” it said in a statement addressed to Cambodia's Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.
“North Korea has regarded the action as a collaboration with its enemies that could lead to fragile relations between the two countries [Cambodia and North Korea],” said the statement, signed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs secretary of state Long Visalo.
“The North Korean Embassy requested Cambodia take immediate action to put an end to this business [of selling the film] and requested us not to broadcast the movie on TV stations or show it at cinemas.”
Cambodian law prohibits political propaganda or activity against a third country.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that in response to the diplomatic note, the Cambodian Television Association—which regulates broadcasting in the country—had instructed all stations to refrain from airing the film.
The Interview, which depicts the assassination plot of Kim by American journalists played by actors Seth Rogen and James Franco, was released online by Sony Pictures Entertainment on Dec. 24 last year.
A cyberattack on Sony in November, which the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said was orchestrated by Pyongyang, had targeted the company’s computer systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data, prompting the movie studio to limit the film’s release in theaters.
North Korea has repeatedly slammed the U.S. and Sony Pictures for making the film, likening it to a “declaration of war.”
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, told RFA’s Khmer Service that banning The Interview is “unconstitutional” because Cambodia is a democratic country.
He said the ban would likely motivate more people to seek out the film, which continues to be widely available online.
“Movies are also a kind of information—this ban affects the principles of human rights,” he said, adding that the move would have “negative impacts.”
DVDs and online viewing
While officials have promised that the film will not be shown on television or in theaters in Cambodia, of greater concern is how they will prevent it from being sought out online and sold in pirated DVD format at markets around the country.
On Sunday, Sin Chan Saya, who heads the Culture Ministry’s film censorship committee, told the Cambodia Daily that pulling copies of DVDs from local shops would do Pyongyang little good.
“The people can see it on the Internet, on the YouTube … How can we stop this?” he said. “I know the shops have it, but we do not control the DVD [shops].”
The Daily quoted Brigadier General Long Sreng, deputy commander of the Interior Ministry’s economic police department, as saying he was not aware of any orders to confiscate copies of the movie.
Meanwhile, it reported, DVDs of The Interview were flying off the shelves at markets in the capital Phnom Penh, with some shop owners reporting that they had sold more than 100 copies over the past two weeks.
Cambodia has banned movies before—keeping financial drama “The Wolf of Wall Street” out of theaters last year for its liberal use of expletives, as well as blocking screenings of a documentary that linked the government to the assassination of Cambodian union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that authorities in neighboring Myanmar have been seizing pirated copies of The Interview for sale at local markets at the behest of the North Korean government.
In South Korea, the film is not being distributed in the country to avoid tensions with Pyongyang, and Seoul this month asked anti-North Korean activists to refrain from sending balloons to the North with copies of the American comedy.
Reported by Keo Nimol for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.