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Phnom Penh Post Staff Firings, Resignations Follow Sale of Paper to Malaysian Investor

The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia's last remaining independent newspaper, has fallen into disarray following its sale to a Malaysian businessman last weekend.

On Saturday it was announced that the Post, known for its coverage of illegal logging and graft in Cambodia, had been sold to Sivakumar S. Ganapathy, the CEO and managing director of a Malaysian public relations firm called Asia PR.

The following day, the Post published an article highlighting Ganapathy's previous business dealings with Hun Sen, the Cambodian prime minister, raising questions about the paper's continued editorial independence under new management. That is when things started to unravel.

Brendan O'Byrne and Ananth Baliga, the reporters who wrote the story, resigned on Monday after being told to take the article down from the Post's website.

Shortly afterward Kay Kimsong, the paper's editor-in-chief, was fired. That same day the managing editor, web editor and CEO also resigned. The article in question was eventually removed, though it is still available in PDF form.

On Tuesday seven more newsroom staff, all foreign, resigned, leaving only Khmer staff left on the news desk.

Erin Handley, a reporter who resigned yesterday, shared a sense of disbelief over what was happening in a Whatsapp call with Saigoneer. "It is really quick for all of this crumble, so it's a real shock," she said. "We have no foreign editorial or reporting staff," she added. "We still have some people on the copy desk and in sports, but the foreign news team doesn't exist anymore."

The local staff, many of whom have homes and families to think of, have been put in a particularly difficult situation by the sale and ensuing personnel shakeup. "I think we're all pretty devastated, and to be honest I think our Khmer colleagues are probably pretty disappointed in us," Handley shared. "Maybe not in us, just in the situation. There have been points during the day when some of them have begged us to stay, and that's something that's really difficult to reckon with." 

The now-former Post reporter emphasized how hard it was to leave the paper, but she ultimately couldn't reconcile the ownership's stance with her values. "I think that at the end of the day we got to a point where we realized with the new management that our ideas of editorial independence just don't align at all and that we just couldn't continue, sadly," Handley explained. "We're devastated and really upset to leave."

The gutting of the Post, which has been publishing as the country's newspaper of record since 1992, follows the shuttering of The Cambodia Daily, its main rival, last September over an alleged overdue tax bill. These events, Handley believes, have significance beyond journalists posting on Twitter, where this week's resignations played out in real-time.

"I know we've had some social media outpouring from politicians, commentators, journalism students and other English speakers," she says. "We are seeing a lot of people who are really sad, and I think the sadness really does go beyond the Post because it's not actually that much about our little paper; it's much more about the broader implications for press freedom here, which are looking pretty dire."  

[Top photo via The News Buzz]

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