More walkouts over new ownership of Cambodian newspaper Phnom Penh Post

Concern over the fate of The Phnom Penh Post has been mounting since it was sold on to a Malaysian investor.
Concern over the fate of The Phnom Penh Post has been mounting since it was sold on to a Malaysian investor.PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Seven more journalists resigned from Cambodia's embattled Phnom Penh Post on Tuesday (May 8) as foreign staff revolt against new ownership accused of crushing the newspaper's independence.

Concern over the fate of the English-language daily has been mounting since it was sold on Saturday (May 5) to a Malaysian investor whose PR firm once worked for Cambodia's authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mr Hun Sen's government has taken a hammer to the fragile democracy's once-vibrant media scene over the past year, leaving the Post as one of few remaining watchdogs in the graft-riddled country.

The paper's main rival, the Cambodia Daily, and dozens of radio stations were shuttered last year as part of a wider crackdown on critics ahead of 2018 polls that Mr Hun Sen is determined to win.

Now many fear the Post's independence will be compromised under a new owner, Mr Sivakumar Ganapathy, who is the CEO of a public relations firm that lists Mr Hun Sen as a former client.

On Monday (May 7), the paper's Cambodian editor-in-chief and at least four other staff were fired or quit after they were ordered to take down an article detailing the new proprietor's business history with Cambodia's government.

Seven more foreign staff handed in their resignations on Tuesday, gutting the news desk of a small but feisty paper founded in 1992.

"We got to a point with our new editor-in-chief, to me at least, where it seemed like there was an irreconcilable difference when it came to editorial independence," said Ms Erin Handley, one of the reporters to resign on Tuesday.

The Post could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Sunday (May 6), Mr Ganapathy released an irate statement listing his objections with the article his representative had demanded reporters remove.

He said it was "untrue" to describe his company, Asia PR, as linked to the Cambodian government.

This "cannot be concluded based on what happened between the firm and the client more than 25 years ago," the statement said.

Asia PR's website lists "Cambodia and Hun Sen's entry into the government seat" as one of its former projects.

The firm has declined repeated requests for comment, while a Cambodian government spokesman said he was unaware of the sale.

Cambodia plunged 10 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".

The rapid deterioration of the media scene has compounded concerns over the country's lurch into authoritarianism.

The main opposition party - Mr Hun Sen's only real rival - was dissolved in a court ruling last year, in a move that rights groups condemned as a death knell for the country's democracy.