Upcoming election seen as reason behind clampdown on Cambodian press freedom

Published:  9 May at 6 PM
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Tagged: USA, Australia
Last weekend’s sale of the Phnom Penh Post was an unwelcome surprise to many expats living and working in Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh Post English language newspaper was the last independent newspaper in the country, with its loss causing concern amongst the kingdom’s many thousands of expats. On hearing the news of its sale, the paper’s staff reacted with a revolt which resulted in senior staff either giving in their notice or being fired. Australian owner Bill Cough sold the paper to Malaysian businessman Sivakumar Ganapathy, owner of a public relations company which does business with the Cambodian government.

Since the news broke, Ganapathy has sacked business editor Brendan O’Bryne, editor in chief Kay Kim Song and reporter Ananth Baliga. The sackings are reported to have been due to an article about the sale, and the Post’s CEO Marcus Holmes and its managing editor Stuart White are reported to have resigned. The row began when an article documenting the sale was published and included references to its new owner’s connections to both the Malaysian and Cambodian governments. Ganapathy responded with an extraordinary statement in which he claimed the story was a violation of journalistic codes of conduct and ‘smelled of malice’.

For several years, concern has been growing about the erosion of press freedoms in Cambodia. Last year, the independent Cambodia Daily was closed following its inability to pay a dubious tax bill totalling £3.9 million within a month of its receipt. The Phnom Penh Post had also received a tax bill for $6.3 million, a debt happily taken on by its new owner. Last September, the US government-funded Radio Free Asia was shut down, again because of a tax dispute as well as its objections to a government shutdown of 30 of its frequencies.

Two of its reporters have been in jail since November on espionage charges as a result of their setting up an RFA studio. Both deny the charges but are being disallowed bail. International observers believe the attack on Cambodia’s free press is connected with the country’s July general election, seen by many as a farce simply intended to re-elect the present PM Hun Sen. Cambodia now ranks 142nd on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
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