Mass exit of editors and reporters at the Phnom Penh Post sign of great concern for democracy in Cambodia
9 May 2018 7:14 pm
(Bangkok, 9 May 2018) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is gravely concerned about the developments this week at the Phnom Penh Post. The dismissal of the editor-in-chief and the subsequent walkout of senior editors and reporters who felt they no longer had editorial independence represent the final blow for press freedom in the country. The Phnom Penh Post was the last independent daily newspaper in a media landscape controlled by government interests. In line with a disconcerting trend of shrinking democratic space and a rapidly worsening crack down on fundamental freedoms last year this attack on Cambodia’s last bastion of independent media is not just a threat to freedom of the press, but to democracy at large.
On Saturday, 5 May 2018, it was announced that the Phnom Penh Post had been sold to a new owner, Malaysian Sivakumar S Ganapathy. Given the looming and disputed 3.9 million US Dollar tax bill and a controversial lawsuit over the unfair dismissal of a former chief executive officer, the move did not in itself come as a surprise. While both the previous and new owners made promises that editorial independence would be maintained, apprehensions grew when it became known that Ganapathy had past ties with the Hun Sen Government.
On Sunday, 6 May 2018, the Phnom Penh Post ran an article which revealed among others that Ganapathy’s public relations firm, ASIA PR, lists ‘Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry into the government seat’ as a past ‘project’ on its website. After refusing an order from the owner’s representative to remove the article from the Post’s website on Monday, several staff resigned. Following this Kay Kimsong, the editor-in-chief was fired. Since then many more editors and reporters have resigned as well. Eventually, on Tuesday, 8 May 2018, the article was taken down.
There can be little confidence now in the continuing independence of the Phnom Penh Post, particularly given the decimation of Cambodia’s media landscape in the run up to the July General Elections. Just last year, in September, the other main English-Khmer independent newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, was forcibly shut-down when faced with a massive tax bill. Over 30 radio broadcasts were taken off the air, and Radio Free Asia was forced to close its Cambodia office. Two of its former reporters are currently in jail on trumped up charges related to espionage. In its yearly World Press Freedom Index, which Reporters without Borders released last month, Cambodia plummeted ten spots now ranking 142 out of 180 countries.
The crackdown on independent media in the country is linked to broader political repression. The clampdown on opposition parties, particularly the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP); the harassment and attacks on human rights defenders; and threats against civil society organisations: all seem to be designed to ensure a landslide victory for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in the General Elections scheduled for 29 July 2018. Silencing critical voices, dismantling democracy, and disregarding basic human rights are part of that process.
FORUM-ASIA hopes the rough start of the new ownership of the Phnom Penh Post will proof an anomaly in how it will continue to run the paper. Notwithstanding past alliances, FORUM-ASIA calls on the new owner to do its part to guarantee freedom of expression in Cambodia. A free press is a crucial part of any democratic society, and essential to the future development and stability of the country.
For a PDF version of this statement, please click here.
For further information, please contact:
– East Asia and ASEAN Programme, FORUM-ASIA, firstname.lastname@example.org