Following the publication of a story about the new owner of the Phnom Penh Post, the editor-in-chief has been fired and four staffers have resigned. The move has sparked fresh concerns over media freedom in the country.
The editor-in-chief of Cambodian newspaper the Phnom Penh Post, Kay Kimsong, was fired on Monday after publishing an article about the sale of the paper to a Malaysian buyer who has links to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On Saturday it was announced that Australian mining businessman Bill Clough had sold the Phnom Penh Post to Sivakumar Ganapathy, a Malaysian investor and executive at public relations firm Asia PR, which includes the Cambodian government among its former clients. Under government-related projects on the company's website it lists "Cambodia and Hun Sen's entry into the Government seat."
Kimsong told Southeast Asia Globe magazine that he was fired because he had "allowed the printing of an independent story based on journalistic integrity."
Written by business editor Brendan O'Byrne and national reporter Ananth Baliga, who have both resigned, the article detailed Sivakumar's links to high ranking Cambodian and Malaysian officials.
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Staff resign in protest
At least four senior staff members have resigned in protest after "representatives of the new owners came to the Phnom Penh Post offices and ordered that staff remove the article from our website," according to a statement from more than 20 current and former employees posted on Twitter.
"Our article was written in an attempt to maintain the transparency and integrity of our paper as we have done for more than 25 years," the statement said, adding that the demand to remove the article was "made in contradiction to the values of a free press."
O'Byrne, who co-wrote the article, defended his resignation on Twitter.
His colleague, Ananth Baliga, also explained his reasons for quitting on Twitter.
Staff were reportedly told that all future articles would need to be approved by a new editor-in-chief before publication.
A blow to media freedom
The sale of the Phnom Penh Post has been seen by many as the latest blow to media freedom in the country, with the paper's main English-language rival the Cambodia Daily being shut down last year after it was hit with a giant tax bill.
The Reporters Without Borders 2018 Press Freedom Index listed Cambodia at 142 out of 180 countries.
According to Reporters Without borders, around 30 radio stations have also been closed down in recent months, after the opposition party did well in the June 2017 municipal elections, sparking a crackdown on independent media outlets.
The sale of the paper came after a wrongful termination suit brought by a former CEO, as well as a $3.9-million (€3.27-million) tax bill from the General Department of Taxation (GDT), the Phnom Penh Post reported.
The paper was founded in 1992 as Cambodia tried to rebuild following the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.