Several editorial staff at the Phnom Penh Post have resigned in protest after being told by its new Malaysian businessman owner, who has been alleged to have close ties with the Cambodian government, to take down a scathing article on him.
The move comes after the owner of the English newspaper, which has been a frequent critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the last independent news organisation in the country before the sale, sacked the journalists who wrote the article and the editor-in-chief.
The newspaper was sold by Australian publisher Bill Clough after it was hit by a hefty tax bill, a move similar to another independent English newspaper The Cambodia Daily, which was forced to shut after they were unable to pay their US$6.3m bill.
According to the article, the Post alleged its new owner, Sivakumar S Ganapathy once ran the pro-government Cambodia Times newspaper in the early 1990s, before taking over a public relations firm called Asia PR in 2011.
In a page on its website where it lists the clients it has previously worked for, one of Asia PR’s work is for ‘Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry into the Government seat’.
Brendan O'Byrne and Ananth Baliga, the two journalists who wrote the story, announced on Twitter on Monday (7 May) evening they had quit after they were asked by representatives of Sivakumar to take down the story. They added the paper's editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong had also been fired.
After being ordered to remove my story regarding the sale of the Phnom Penh Post from the website by new management, I refused and offered my resignation, which was accepted. I wish the fantastic journalists at The Post all the best.
— Brendan O'Byrne (@BrendanOByrne) May 7, 2018
The new owner of the @phnompenhpost ordered us to take down the article detailing the sale of the newspaper. I will not be returning to work at the Post. I am devastated at the prospect of not being able to work everyday with the some of best journalists I know. I wish them well. — Ananth Baliga (@antbaliga) May 7, 2018
Following in the footsteps soon after, was The Post’s former publisher Marcus Holmes, managing editor Stuart White, web editor Jenni Reid and senior editor Michael Dickison.
The journalists who resigned, as well as those who stayed on, then released a statement where they denounced Sivakumar’s actions. A counter statement was then released by Sivakumar, where he called the Post's editorial a ‘disgrace that ‘borders on internal sabotage’ and expressed ‘serious doubts’ about the calibre of journalists at the paper.
— Erin Handley (@erinahandley) May 7, 2018
The new owner of the @phnompenhpost has issued a statement on his objections to the paper's coverage of its sale--over which he just fired 3 staff members. #1: "The name of the new owner is wrong. It is reported as Sivakumar Ganapathy. In fact, it is Sivakumar S. Ganapathy." pic.twitter.com/aSCb919GeF — Julia Wallace (@julia_wallace) May 7, 2018