Sale of Cambodian newspaper sparks fears of crackdown on press freedom
A newspaper regarded as Cambodia’s last independent English daily has been sold to a Malaysian investor whose PR firm reportedly had previous business links to the prime minister, raising fears of a further squeeze on the free press ahead of July elections.
On Monday several senior journalists resigned from the Phnom Penh Post, saying that its new owner, Sivakumar Ganapathy, had fired the editor-in-chief, Kay Kimsong, and demanded that a story about the sale by former owner and Australian mining businessman, Bill Clough, be removed.
Mr Sivakumar had pledged on Saturday to maintain the 26-year-old newspaper’s editorial independence but apparently objected to an article by the Post’s own journalists that claimed that his public relations firm, Asia PR, listed past clients as Hun Sen, the current prime minister.
Hun Sen, the world’s longest serving prime minister, and his government already stand accused of a sweeping crackdown on the independent media, rights activists and opposition politicians in what appears to be an effort to cling to power in the upcoming poll.
The Post’s journalists stood by their story and live-tweeted the dramatic day in the newsroom as it unfolded.
“After being ordered to remove my story regarding the sale of the Phnom Penh Post from the website by new management, I refused and offered my resignation, which was accepted. I wish the fantastic journalists at The Post all the best,” tweeted Brendan O’Byrne, the business editor.
Ananth Baliga, a reporter who co-wrote the story said: “I will not be returning to work at the Post. I am devastated at the prospect of not being able to work everyday with some of the best journalists I know.”
A statement issued by former and current journalists condemned the new owner’s demands to take down the story.
“Our article was written in an attempt to maintain the transparency and integrity of our paper as we have done for more than 25 years,” it said. Representatives of the owner had been unable to cite any specific factual inaccuracies, it added.
The sale of the Phnom Penh Post, which caught its staff by surprise at the weekend, follows a turbulent time for the press in Cambodia.
The paper’s chief rival, the Cambodia Daily, was forced to shut in August 2017 after it was handed an unpayable tax bill. The crackdown also saw dozens of radio stations taken off the air and the jailing of two journalists from Radio Free Asia.
The targeting of the press coincided with the arrest of Kem Sokha, the opposition leader, on treason charges, which the British government said was of "great concern."
Cambodia fell ten places in this year’s media freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders, which described the country as hosting a “climate of terror that has drastically curtailed press freedom.” Ends