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Editor-in-chief fired as sale of Phnom Penh Post raises concern for Cambodian press freedom

The sale of Cambodian English language daily The Phnom Penh Post has sparked concerns the country has lost its last independent voice with the new owner said to have links to the Cambodian Government.

Australian publisher Bill Clough confirmed he has sold the newspaper to Sivakumar Ganapthy, a Malaysian PR director whose firm, according to media reports, has done work for the Government.

The sale comes eight months after another independent English daily, The Cambodia Daily, was forced to shut down after being handed an “astronomical” tax bill of US$6.3m.

It emerged on social media that Phnom Post editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong has already been fired while other senior staff have quit. One journalist, Andrew Nachemson, tweeted how the takeover “is not going so well”.

Another tweet suggested Kimsong was fired after refusing to take down a story about the sale on the newspaper’s website.

There have long been concerns the Government has been clamping down on the free press in Cambodia with other independent media outlets – including the United States government-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America – also facing accusations of not paying their tax bills.

The Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said it was a dark day for independent journalism in the country. He was reported by the BBC as saying 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 being the beginning of the end for the Phnom Penh Post as an independent and critical newspaper,” he added.

Bill Clough

Clough was quoted as saying Ganapthy was a “well respected newspaper man”.

Chad Williams, former Cambodia Daily foreign editor and former The Phnom Penh Post editor-in-chief, told Mumbrella Asia in an interview that much of the Cambodian Khmer-language media outlets are “very skewed towards the government” and are owned by people with “deep government connections”.

The-now Coconuts editor-in-chief added: “What the Daily and its competitor The Phnom Penh Post have been doing for roughly 25 years now – reporting on the government in a traditionally adversarial style – is something of a marvel.

“On some level, there’s always been a keen awareness that what the papers were doing was a tightrope act, that the reporting on corruption, deforestation, contested election results was being done at the pleasure of a government that allowed them to exist for its own reasons.

“All eyes now turn to The Phnom Penh Post, which will no doubt be under tremendous pressure in the months to come. I have every confidence that the reporters and editors there will keep carrying the torch for press freedom in Cambodia. But just how long they’ll be allowed to do so is another question.”

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