Phnom Penh Post's Sale to PR Firm Ends Editorial Independence

Phnom Penh Post's Sale to PR Firm Ends Editorial Independence
Reuters / TPG

What you need to know

Their new owner, Malaysia-based ASIA PR, has close ties to Cambodia's ruling elite.

By Mong Palatino

Several editors and staff reporters of Cambodia's Phnom Penh Post resigned after expressing concern that the sale of the 26-year old newspaper to a Malaysian public relations executive would undermine its editorial independence.

Phnom Penh Post was recently bought by Sivakumar S Ganapathy, who is the managing director of Malaysia-based ASIA PR company.

Staff at the Phnom Penh Post published a news article about the sale, which described the business profile and interests of ASIA PR and mentioned that the company completed a project entitled “Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry into the Government seat.”

The project appears to have been conducted on behalf of Cambodian incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for three decades. ASIA PR's website does not offer further details about the project.

Credit: Reuters / TPG
A man reads the Phnom Penh Post newspaper at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 8, 2018.

Representatives of the newspaper’s new owners asked the editor-in-chief, Kay Kimsong, to remove the article, alleging that it contained “factual errors.”

Kay Kimsong refused and was fired as a result. Other editors and foreign reporters of the paper have resigned in protest.

The article was soon removed from the website but it has been saved and reposted online.

Cambodia's faltering press

Phnom Penh Post has been widely regarded as Cambodia’s only independent professional news site since the government shut down dozens of radio stations over tax and licensing issues in 2017. Cambodia Daily, a major English language daily, was forced to close operations after it was slapped with a hefty tax.

The sale of the Phnom Penh Post to a company with alleged links to the ruling party has worried many groups, including the political opposition. Many fear that it will completely stifle criticism and press freedom in the country.

This is happening at a time when people with dissenting views are being detained, the opposition party is facing legal persecution, and Prime Minister Hun Sen is being accused of suppressing free speech ahead of upcoming general elections.

Chak Sopheap of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights paid tribute to Phnom Penh Post while highlighting the implications of changing the paper’s editorial independence and integrity:

"It is difficult to overestimate the crucial role that the Post has played in Cambodia over the years. It has consistently spoken truth to power, fearlessly exposed corruption, and unflinchingly held a mirror to Cambodian society – often revealing uncomfortable truths.

"Cambodian democracy and its pillars – press freedom and civil society – lie in ruins."

Read Next: HONG KONG: Beijing's Long Shadow Falls over Press Freedom

The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Global Voices, a borderless, largely volunteer community of more than 1,400 writers, analysts, online media experts, and translators.

TNL Editor: Edward White

TNL Editor: Morley J Wesotn