Sunday, November 23, 2008

Now What?

Normally, I don’t touch gossip subjects. But this one sort of stands out; that’s why I thought I might give this one an airing on my blog as well. We are talking about the baffling case of a young woman who calls herself DJ Ano. Her real name doesn’t really matter here.

This young woman works as a music show host on one of the Khmer TV stations, from what I understand. I don’t watch these shows and am generally completely uninterested in celebrities, so I don’t know about her. First time she appeared on my radar screen was when one blog reported her as missing – naturally, as a blogger I read a few other blogs about Cambodia. They had obviously picked it up either from a Khmer language paper or from another blog. But it did eventually appear in at least one paper that I know of – the Isle of Peace (Koh Santhepeap). My wife reads this so I am somewhat abreast of what’s reported there.

First they all wondered where she might have gone because it was initially dealt with as a ‘simple’ disappearance. But slowly it developed into a major story of a love triangle. These are all too common in Cambodia, just like in any other country of the world. It is, of course, not so remarkable that only those involving people in power and young female celebrities get wide press and blog coverage. And what’s not all too common in other countries outside SE Asia is that it all too often happens that the jealous wife of the husband takes matters to terminate this affair in her own hands by throwing acid into the female lover’s face, which leaves her horribly disfigured, or even by having her killed. There are at least three cases where this happened but no one was ever apprehended or let alone stood trial for any of these horrible crimes. Needless to say, that the rumor mills are still in full spin over all these cases.

The next report about this disappearance a few days later then contained some gory details of a purported crime. It was said that two goons abducted the young woman in broad daylight, threw her in a car and took her to a place where they shaved her head with a razor and then proceeded to inflict razor cuts all over her upper body, 83 in all, it was reported. The blogs were full of it. It also came to light that her pubic hair was shaved off and wounds inflicted on the genital area. Now who could be blamed for such a crime? Clearly, only a jealous wife of a high-ranking official could be responsible for such a heinous act.

When the press checked with the police, the response was there is no report of such an incident, consequently, there is no reason to investigate. This was quickly seen as part of a cover-up by the public. It was clear to them that the husband just threw a blanket over the affair in order to preserve his wife’s and his reputation and standing, not to mention to cover up a crime. Coincidentally, the police commissioner for Cambodia, Hok Lundy, who didn’t really enjoy the best of reputations among rights activists, died in a helicopter crash a few days later.

Now that set the rumor mill spinning so quickly it virtually span out of control. The wildest theories were explored, e. g. he was the husband, and now supporters or fans shot down his helicopter. Others said there were even pictures and videos in circulation showing the act. That material would also identify the wife. Everybody can imagine how those freakish minds went into overdrive.

On one board a poster even quoted 20 or so witnesses to the crime, who unfortunately were too afraid to come forward. But they knew who was behind all this.

One poster said, ‘Well, the bitch knew what she was getting into with a married power broker.’ – A bit crass this, don’t you think?

The young woman was reportedly transported to the Calamette Hospital in Phnom Penh, but because of the severity of the wounds she was quickly flown by helicopter to Ho Chi Minh City for intensive care. Status reports from an unidentified hospital there followed, giving the situation as grave but not hopeless. Some had her in a life-threatening condition. The unnamed hospital later published a bulletin that she was on the way to recovery and would be released in a few days. No one ever saw that bulletin, let alone could say with any degree of certainty which hospital they were talking about.

On another blog someone posted a comment saying that the young woman is fine and will return to the public eye shortly. She, the poster, claimed to be a close relative of hers.

Another newspaper article again quoted the police as saying there is no grounds for an investigation because no one filed a missing persons report, there is not one shred of evidence indicating that such a crime had been committed, although the police stated they had also heard of those rumors but dismissed them as just that. Not even her employers at the TV station saw the need to file a report. Perhaps she was just on vacation and the producer just didn’t want to bother with all these rumors or saw a good publicity stunt in the making, all without lifting one finger or a phone?

The police can’t act on rumors alone, unless it is in the public interest. A missing person that has not been reported missing is not dealt with by any police force in the world, or is it?

One zealous blogger wrote an open letter to the police demanding they investigate. Incidentally, he also implicated the late police commissioner in the crime. This blogger is a particularly vexatious individual who obviously considers himself a hard-core journalist the way he publishes his contributions on several blogs. He keeps admonishing the Cambodian government about what it must do. I am sure they read his blog with great interest.

Now, then one day after two weeks or so, lo and behold, the young woman appeared on her TV show alive and unscathed. But some people just wouldn’t let it go. They indicated, hey, this is a doppelganger (dead ringer). The young woman then put out a press release saying she doesn’t know what prompted anyone from circulating those rumors. Nothing ever happened and she will sue anyone who continues spreading these falsehoods about an affair, etc.

Now what happened? I mean, who the hell really cares? But this is a glowing example of how our new information dissemination via blogs, you-tube, etc. can run amok. One can’t really blame those bloggers on the one hand as they oftentimes do uncover facts otherwise kept hidden. But even the New York Times fell victim to some blogged falsehoods. On the other hand this case exemplifies very clearly how pernicious an effect an even initially small rumor can have when it mushrooms into a major story with possibly uncontrollable consequences, and often to the detriment of the purported victim – and nothing beats a story or rumor with such prurient salaciousness. Sure, in this case the young woman got a lot of publicity, whether good or bad is arguable, but the often noticed tendency to blow things out of proportion is a deplorable and rather unwelcome side product of our web-dominated information highway.

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