[Cambodia] Editor fired, staff resign as new owner takes over newspaper Phnom Penh Post

[Cambodia] Editor fired, staff resign as new owner takes over newspaper Phnom Penh Post

New owners and managers took over on 7 May 2018 the editorial and operations of the last independent, English-language newspaper in Cambodia – The Phnom Penh Post – after its sale to a Malaysian investor over the weekend.

A representative of the new owner fired the editor in chief, and several senior staff resigned over their refusal to take down the report about the new ownership of the Phnom Penh Post. (“Phnom Penh Post sold to Malaysian investor“)

Managing editor Stuart White, web editor Jenni Reid, business editor Brendan O’Byrne, and senior reporter Ananth Baliga made separate announcements on social media about their resignations from the newspaper for their refusal to obey the new management’s orders.

A Reuters report quoted editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong as being fired for “allow[-ing] the story about the sale of the Phnom Penh Post to be published.” (“Sale of newspaper in Cambodia ‘disaster’ for media freedom: rights group”)

The Phnom Penh Post was reportedly sold over the weekend to Malaysian businessman Sivakumar Ganapathy, executive director of the Kuala-Lumpur based Asia Public Relations Consultants Sdn Bhd. The sale was announced via a press release from the newspaper’s previous owner Bill Clough, an Australian mining businessman.

According to the news report, Ganapathy is “a Malaysian investor and executive at a public relations firm that has previously done work for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.”

Prior to its sale, the paper reportedly faced a tax penalty of USD 3.9 million and was rumored to face closure as it was unable to settle its debt. (“Post’s bill from tax authority business as usual, says CEO“) Clough’s announcement also said that the tax bill had been settled as part of the sale.

“The events after the takeover of The Phnom Penh Post by its new owner is a serious warning about the end of the newspaper’s editorial independence,” said Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) executive director Edgardo Legaspi.

“We had hoped that the new owner honors their commitment ‘to upholding the paper’s 26 year old legacy and editorial principles/independence.’ Sadly, their first steps appear to contradict this commitment,” Legaspi added.

This incident with the Phnom Penh Post is the latest in the series of serious blows to press freedom and media independence in Cambodia. (“Government launches systematic attack on independent media“)

The government crackdown, which started in August 2017, forced the closure of 19 radio stations including Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and Voice of Democracy ; 32 FM radio frequencies across 20 provinces over alleged media licenses violations and tax payment issues ; 330 print media establishments for alleged inactivity.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper was forced to close shop after being slapped with a USD 6.3 million tax bill by the government, which ordered the paper to pay within one month. Today, the newspaper continues to publish stories on its website, which is blocked within Cambodia.

SEAPA sees the Phnom Penh Post as the last of Cambodia’s independent outlets publishing over the mainstream media channels. The actions of its editors today to stand by their story is very admirable, as they would rather lose their jobs than their integrity as journalists.

 

[UPDATE: Read the respective statements of the staff (left) and owner (right) on the events related to this Alert. Please note that images open in external links.]

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