Fir­ing and res­ig­na­tions af­ter sale of Cam­bo­dian daily

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

Sev­eral se­nior jour­nal­ists have left Cam­bo­dia's Ph­nom Penh Post, say­ing its new own­ers fired the ed­i­tor in chief and de­manded a story be re­moved. The paper, seen as Cam­bo­dia's last in­de­pen­dent daily, was sold to a Malaysian busi­ness­man at the week­end, rais­ing con­cerns about its fu­ture. New owner Si­vaku­mar Ganapthy is also di­rec­tor of a PR firm which has done work for the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment. The sale comes amid an in­creas­ing crack­down on in­de­pen­dent me­dia out­lets. Bill Clough, Aus­tralian for­mer owner of the Ph­nom Penh Post, con­firmed the sale of the paper on Satur­day, blam­ing fall­ing ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues. He iden­ti­fied the buyer as "well re­spected news­pa­per man" Si­vaku­mar G, and said an out­stand­ing tax bill had been cleared as part of the deal. In a state­ment, the owner said he would up­hold the Post's legacy and ed­i­to­rial in­de­pen­dence. But on Mon­day evening, jour­nal­ists work­ing on the news­pa­per said the ed­i­tor-in-chief Kay Kim­song had been fired. Oth­ers have re­signed or been sacked. The rea­son was not immediately clear, but sev­eral jour­nal­ists said they had been or­dered to take down an ar­ti­cle re­port­ing on the paper's sale. The ar­ti­cle, pub­lished on Sun­day, in­cluded sev­eral quotes rais­ing con­cerns about the new own­er­ship, in­clud­ing that Si­vaku­mar Gana­p­a­thy's agency, Asia PR, listed "Cam­bo­dia and Hun Sen's en­try into the Gov­ern­ment seat" as one of its for­mer clients. Among those also re­sign­ing was man­ag­ing ed­i­tor Stu­art White. There has been grow­ing con­cern for some time about the state of press free­dom in Cam­bo­dia. Re­porters With­out Bor­ders has ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of launch­ing "an all-out war on in­de­pen­dent me­dia out­lets with the aim of ensuring victory in the gen­eral elec­tions sched­uled for July". The Cam­bo­dia Daily was last year forced to close af­ter it re­ceived a $6.3m tax bill that it could not pay. Other in­de­pen­dent me­dia out­lets have also re­port­edly been ac­cused of not com­ply­ing with tax obli­ga­tions. US gov­ern­ment- funded Ra­dio Free Asia re­cently closed its bureau in Ph­nom Penh cit­ing a "re­lent­less crack­down" on in­de­pen­dent me­dia. The out­lets had of­ten re­ported on top­ics such as cor­rup­tion and hu­man rights abuses that em­bar­rassed the gov­ern­ment of Hun Sen, who has been prime min­is­ter for 33 years. Huy Van­nak, un­der­sec­re­tary of state at the In­te­rior Min­istry, had ear­lier told Reuters the sale of the Post was "nor­mal busi­ness" and that it "re­mains a news­pa­per". But Phil Robert­son, deputy Asia di­rec­tor for Hu­man Rights Watch, said there was "no plau­si­ble busi­ness ra­tio­nale for an ob­scure Malaysian pub­lic re­la­tions firm to buy this news­pa­per, ex­cept to seek con­trol for elite Cam­bo­dian friends". "This looks like the be­gin­ning of the end for the Ph­nom Penh Post as an in­de­pen­dent and crit­i­cal news­pa­per." A for­mer Ph­nom Penh Post ed­i­tor-in-chief Chad Williams had said the fact the the paper's tax bill was set­tled at the same time as the sale "sug­gests the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment may have used the threat of a shut­down to es­sen­tially co­erce the sale".

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