Usually, Shorts blasts will be once a week at most – but it’s all happening this week! You’d be hard-pressed to have missed what’s up at the Phnom Penh Post and as sad as it is to see a great paper on the edge like this, in Cambodia it goes much further than just one outlet.
And just before we jump into it here’s a side-FYI that I’m ultra excited about: Shorts is now part of the Splice Network. We want to bring some of the best media stories in the region to our combined global audiences. We’re starting with newsletters from Asia – and let’s see where this goes. There are some mutterings about a regional podcast cartel. But this keeps us busy for now.
See you later in the week!
The death of press freedom and independence in Cambodia came not with a whimper, but with a flurry of Tweets and a brazen report in the very pages of the newspaper targeted. Staff at the Phnom Penh Post, which publishes in both English and Khmer, were notified Saturday that the paper had been sold to Malaysian businessman Sivakumar Ganapathy.
The following day the paper published online a damning report linking the new owner (pdf) to various politicians across Malaysia and Cambodia as well as the Khmer Times, widely seen as a mouthpiece for the ruling Cambodian People's Party.
Any concerns over Ganapathy’s CV were not a deal breaker for Australian mining magnate Bill Clough who had bought the Post back in 2008. “Siva is a well respected newspaper man, with a [sic] experienced journalist background, and represents a strong investment group from Malaysia,” Clough said in a press release quoted in the piece.
The sale comes after Clough and the paper were hit with a $3.9 million tax bill and a costly wrongful termination suit. In that case, former CEO Chris Dawe was awarded $344,000 after allegedly securing the support of a ‘major backer.’
‘Wrong, wrong, wrong’ Ganapathy said in a release Monday. His statement dismisses much of the links between his business interests and political outcomes made in the original report but does little for his image as an owner demanding too much control over editorial policy. The journalists who wrote the piece are not of the calibre an outlet like the Post needs, he says.
And so they are gone, prompting an exodus from the newsroom while those remaining continue to report from inside. Editor in chief Kay Kimsong was the first to be shown the door with management saying he had made ‘a serious mistake’ in allowing the initial piece to be published. Five senior members of the editorial staff, including business editor Brendan O’Byrne and senior journalist Ananth Baliga who wrote the piece, followed him with resignations after refusing to remove the article.
With a strong alumni network across the region and eyeballs still lingering after the shuttering of Cambodia Daily last year, there was no way this was going to go down quietly. Post reporter Erin Handley took to Twitter to document the mood in the newsroom on Monday as the axe began swinging, including posting moving footage of Kimsong leaving for the final time. Post staffers who made the decision to leave the company also tweeted, including Ananth Baliga.
The initial article was not removed from the Post website until mid-Tuesday, but the damage has been done. A flurry of analysis pieces have linked the sale to broader crackdowns on freedoms in Cambodia ahead of July elections, citing recent forced closures including the Daily and Radio Free Asia.