OBSERVERS have expressed concern for press freedom in Cambodia as the newspaper seen as the Kingdom’s last independent publication has been sold to a public relations firm linked to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The Phnom Penh Post reported on Sunday that it had been sold to Malaysian investor Sivakumar Ganapathy, the head of a PR firm who has previously worked for the PM. The sale, which caught the newspaper’s staff by surprise, swiftly raised concerns about a contracting space for independent media in a country that lost its other main English newspaper last year.
Hun Sen has ruled the Southeast Asian country for more than three decades and stands accused of a sweeping crackdown on independent media, NGOs and rival politicians ahead of July polls.
Last year, his government forced the closure of the country’s other major English language newspaper The Cambodia Daily. Hun Sen has also ordered that dozens of other independent media providers shut down.
“The Post is really the last remaining newspaper that comes out every day and does long investigations on corruption, illegal logging and politics,” said Abby Seiff, a Cambodia-based freelance journalist and former Phnom Penh Post editor.
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“The journalist community is concerned about what the implication (of the sale) could be. It’s just two months until the election and there’s not much independent media left,” she added.
In his statement on Saturday, former owner Bill Clough acknowledged that “turbulence” in Cambodia ahead of elections had put a spotlight on the Phnom Penh Post and left it as “the last remaining truly independent media group in the country”.
The Southeast Asia Press Alliance’s executive director Ed Legaspi told the The Post that he was “quite worried this is happening” and that it was “highly likely” that Ganapathy’s ownership would undermine its editorial independence.
“Malaysian media and media owners are not known for their independence. The thing to do is for editors to maintain their independence and continue to do the work that you do.”
Additional reporting from AFP.