Phnom Penh — Karaoke is big in Cambodia. Very big. Office workers sing and dance the night away while sipping iced beer in windowless, bunker-like karaoke parlors known as “KTV”s. Younger viewers download the videos directly onto their computers and sing at home.
Flip to any of the country’s nine major television channels — all owned by government officials or business people with close ties to the governing Cambodia People’s Party and it won’t take long before a karaoke video singing the praises of Prime Minister Hun Sen or his wife, Bun Rany, comes on the air.
The programming is part of a quiet but long-running propaganda campaign that takes full advantage of Cambodians’ passion for sing-along.
Hun Sen, a canny former Khmer Rouge guerrilla fighter who later rebelled against the regime, has held power for the past 27 years. Western countries criticize his government’s record on human rights: Protesters and activists have been shot, and high-profile opposition figures are routinely prosecuted on trumped-up charges. But the steps that he is taking to remake Cambodian culture in his own image are perhaps an even more insidious form of control.