Sale of Cambodian newspaper sparks fears of crackdown on press freedom

A screen capture displays the logo of the Phnom Penh Post on the newspaper's website on Sunday

Seven more journalists resigned from Cambodia's embattled Phnom Penh Post on Tuesday (May 8) as foreign staff revolt against new ownership accused of crushing the newspaper's independence.

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.

Managing editor Stuart White, who has worked for the Post for six years, was the first staff member to refuse to remove the article.

The newspaper's editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong was reportedly fired after he refused to take down the news story.

In a statement, Sivakumar blasted The Post's editorial staff as "careless and vicious" and called the article a "disgrace", adding that it "smells of malice".

Kem Sokha, head of the now dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested on September 3 amid a crackdown on critics of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen who has ruled the Southeast Asian country for more than 30 years.

More than 20 members of The Post's staff issued a statement expressing "disgust for this decision made in contradiction to the values of a free press that our hardworking staff have upheld since 1992".

This "cannot be concluded based on what happened between the firm and the client more than 25 years ago", the statement said.

In recent months local media had reported that the Phnom Penh Post was facing tax troubles.

Invoice Clough, the previous proprietor and writer of the Phnom Penh Put up, mentioned in a video revealed final 12 months that he wished to keep up the paper's independence.

Journalists at the newspaper said that three other senior editorial staffers had resigned.

Kimsong told Southeast Asia Globe magazine that he was sacked because he had "allowed the printing of an independent story based on journalistic integrity".

The new owner is Malaysian investor Sivakumar Ganapathy, an executive director at Asia Public Relations Consultants Sdn Bhd, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur.

Australian tycoon Bill Clough announced on Saturday that he had sold the Post Media Co., Ltd, which includes daily English-language Phnom Penh Post and Post Khmer publications, to Malaysian investor Sivakumar an undisclosed sum.

The PR firm's website referred to "Cambodia and Hun Sen's entry into the Government seat" as one of its projects.

The Post reported that his PR company had done business in the past for the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which has curtailed press freedom ahead of a July general election.

But Sophal Ear, the analyst, said he saw the language about obeying laws as "a signal to the authorities" about the newspaper's future.

Asia PR's website calls Sivakumar "a journalist by discipline and training from the United Kingdom and Australia" who was previously editor-in-chief of The Eastern Times, a newspaper in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

All stories must now be approved by Purushotman in what critics of the sale, and subsequent events, have said is a further worrying sign that the Post's independent voice has been silenced.

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