Phnom Penh (AFP) – Crisis gripped Cambodia’s last independent newspaper Monday as the editor-in-chief was fired by its new owner over a front-page article on the sale, while several senior reporters resigned in protest at the apparent attack on editorial integrity.
The 26-year-old Phnom Penh Post was sold to Malaysian investor Sivakumar S Ganapathy over the weekend for an unknown sum.
Since then the newspaper, once respected for its fearless, independent reporting, has gone into meltdown — the latest unravelling of a prominent media organisation under the watch of Cambodia’s increasingly authoritarian premier Hun Sen.
Editor Kay Kimsong said he was sacked for signing off on a piece exploring the implications of the sale.
“The new owner fired me today… because I approved today’s front-page story,” Kimsong told AFP.
“I have done my duty as editor-in-chief for the newspaper… but the new boss has the right to make the decision.”
The story identified the new proprietor as the Malaysian investor, who is also the CEO of Kuala Lumpur-based public relations firm Asia PR, a business the report said “has previously done work” for Hun Sen.
The two reporters who wrote the piece resigned on Monday afternoon and at least one senior editor on the English-language version of paper also quit — all three alleging they were ordered to pull the story.
“I resigned this morning after being told to take down the The Post’s story on its sale, which I refused to do,” Stuart White, the former managing editor of the English-language paper told AFP.
The story was still available on Monday afternoon on the The Post’s website.
A spokesperson for Asia PR declined to make an immediate comment and repeated calls to The Post went unanswered on Monday afternoon.
Media deemed to be critical of Cambodia’s government have been eviscerated by hefty tax bills and defamation cases over recent months.
Rights groups say the legal woes are linked to Hun Sen, who is clearing the board of all potential opposition ahead of elections in July.
The Post’s chief rival, the Cambodia Daily, was forced to close in August 2017 after it was landed with an unpayable tax bill, announcing its closure the same day authorities arrested opposition leader Kem Sokha on treason charges.
The crackdown also saw dozens of radio stations taken off air and the jailing of two reporters from Radio Free Asia.
Cambodia plunged 10 places in this year’s media freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders.
In recent months local media had reported that the Phnom Penh Post was facing tax troubles.