Trouble at TEDXPP

Posted on by Khmer 440 Staff


I assume there must be someone in Phnom Penh who hasn’t yet heard the troubled rumors emanating from yesterdays TEDXPP conference,

In fact, for some time before conference a petty online spat between John Weeks (who had been prominent in previous conferences) and the current organizers had hung over proceeding like a small dark cloud. Weeks, for some reason (to spend more time with his awkward doodles?), had sulkily declined to participate in this years events and had then pettily used his twitter account to snipe away from the sidelines in a manner that could not be deemed helpful.

And then yesterday, on the afternoon of the conference, a largish power cut had stymied the later sessions, leading to much paranoid muttering about sabotage. In fact, large parts of town were without power in a typical Phnom Penh weekend afternoon outage that lasted from 3pm -5.45pm as these things occasionally do.

Finally, we now discover that the organizers – and at the very last minute – had cancelled a finale talk which would have covered such delicate but vital matters as the Chut Vuthy slaying and whose speakers would have included the Venerable Noun Sovath and Chut Vutty’s son and would have also included work from the photographer John Vink whose powerful images have done so much to document injustice here over the past few years.

So clearly, a few questions need asking. Firstly, one might wonder why the organizers hadn’t booked a conference space that had a back up power supply. Many venues, particularly private educational establishments, automatically flip to generator power the moment an outage takes place. One might think that this contingency would be essential at a well publicized conference with hundreds of participants.

Finally, in a terrible year for freedom, social justice and the right to peaceful dissent in Cambodia, one hopes the organizers will come to realize the absolute calamity of their knee jerk decision to silence the voices of change many people had come to see.

This was a grave misjudgment and a mistake I feel will greatly tarnish TEDxPP and could leave conference with the reputation of being fey, equivocating, wan and easily nobbled by the forces of darkness.

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13 Responses to Trouble at TEDXPP

  1. andyinasia says:

    The TEDxPhnomPenh Official Statement on Yesterday’s Banned Talk:

    The TEDxPhnomPenh Team expresses its sadness that a scheduled talk at the end of our program called ‘Grand Finale’ was cancelled due to concerns from our venue that the content would jeopardize the safety of the school and its students.

    Just to clarify, the venue in question is Pannasastra University. How would “the safety of the school and its students” be compromised?

    • mino says:

      How would “the safety of the school and its students” be compromised?

      PUC receives a license from the Ministry of Education; if the performance would have gone ahead and if the MoE classifies it as a political event due to the nature of the content, they could revoke the schools license and close it down. You think TEDx really wants to go ahead next year asking a new venue, “hello the last time our venue got shutdown after we been there, but you don’t mind do you?”

  2. mino says:

    Why are people insisting to make TEDx what it is not? TED is about Technology, Entertainment and Design and and TEDx is stating “we are apolitical” on all materials. The performance included a very powerful political messages and as important as this messages is, TEDx is not the right forum for this. With regards to the venues backup power, it came on after 30 seconds.

  3. Hey thanks for the post, a couple clarifications —

    – The power only went out for about 90 seconds before the Pannasastra generators kicked in. Interestingly, the microphones stayed on even though the lights went out.
    – John Weeks brought up a valid concern that TEDxPhnomPenh wasn’t being transparent enough about who was working on it. We appreciated his point and posted a volunteer list on our website.

    – TEDxPhnomPenh believes that progress comes from open discussion and debate, and it was really saddening to have to cancel a moving presentation that incredible activists had been working on for weeks. However, we were faced with the difficult decision between cancelling “Grand Finale” and cancelling the conference altogether.

    A video of the cancelled presentation will be made available in the coming weeks.

    We’ve updated our response here:

    Roswell Thomas
    TEDxPhnomPenh Marketing Team

  4. andyinasia says:

    Exactly mino – the future of PUC could be in doubt; however, that is quite separate from the “safety” of the students. It seemed a bit of a hysterical claim, maybe now toned down.

  5. A few lines of the script for the censored ‘grand finale’ of TEDx was published at the Phnom Penh Post … could you please send me the full script so that I can read something substantive from TEDx? If you don’t have it please feel free to forward my email address to the participants themselves … in fact it’s

    [email protected]

    I’d really like to have the benefit of the script at least, if not the graphics and the rest of the show. It’s a pity there is concern for such peripheral things as ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design’, but so little concern for the lives of the people of Cambodia.

    • James says:

      If the conference were called “political avtivist civil society do gooders protesting oppressive corrupt regimes” then that would be fair comment.

      But it is is called TED.

      It is not the place for political activism.

  6. warren daly says:

    There was great ideas and talks. I for one will concentrate on the positive messages, positive people and positive discussions that were had at TEDx.

  7. Soreasy says:

    replying again.
    Speaking from a khmeramerican point of view on the topic. I am business man and have a young son attend pannasasttra international school.

    listened to the meeting for the event online. really sad to hear the khmer presenters told not be able to speak. A reall snap decision by the administrator. listen to the meeting mp3 audio.Ironic he is the director of “communication studies” what qualifications???? terrible example to Cambodian students.

    Phnom penh post and Cambodia daily please investigate MORE.thank you for this IMPORTANT CENSORSHIP STORY.

  8. Casey Nelson says:

    Barring an overtly political event from an explicitly non-political venue is not “censorship.”

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