It emerged during the weekend that the Phnom Penh Post has been sold to Sivakumar Ganapathy, the managing director of a public relations company called Asia PR whose clients include Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Confirming the sale, the newspaper’s previous Australian owner, Bill Clough, said it was concluded after a Cambodian government tax claim was settled out of court. The Cambodian government had recently issued a sudden demand for payment of 3.9 million dollars in back taxes from the Phnom Penh Post.
This astronomic bill recalled last year’s government demand for the payment of 6.3 million dollars in back taxes by another independent newspaper, Cambodia Daily, which forced it to close in September.
“This sale marks the end of media freedom and pluralism in Cambodia,” RSF said. “After the closure of Radio Free Asia and Cambodia Daily, the Phnom Penh Post was one of Cambodia’s last independent media voices. In the run-up to general elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen is pursuing his shocking crackdown on media outlets that don’t toe the government line.”
The Phnom Penh Post’s new owner fired its editor, Kay Kimsong, today while at least four of its journalists, Stuart White, Jenni Reid, Brendan O’Byrne and Ananth Baliga, resigned after refusing to comply with the new management’s request for the removal of an article about the sale. The newspaper’s CEO, Marcus Holmes, also submitted his resignation.
As RSF revealed in a report published in February, entitled “Cambodia: the independent press in ruins”, the press freedom situation in Cambodia has been extremely worrying since las summer’s closure of more than 30 radio stations, as well as Radio Free Asia’s local operations and Cambodia Daily.
Several journalists have been held without trial for months on spying charges. They include James Ricketson, a 69-year-old Australian documentary filmmaker who, because he is in very poor health, was recently moved to the hospital of the prison where he is being held.
As a result of all these developments, Cambodia fell 10 places in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 142nd out of 180 countries.