The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand is dismayed by the implications of the recent sale of the Phnom Penh Post to Asia PR, a Malaysian public relations company owned by Sivakumar S. Ganapathy. According to its own website, the company has previously worked on behalf of Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister, and offers "covert PR" to its political clients.
On May 7, Sivakumar ordered the removal of an article about the Phnom Penh Post's sale from the newspaper's website. Editor in Chief Kay Kimsong was fired when he refused to comply, and over a dozen local and foreign journalists have since been fired or resigned in protest.
The Phnom Penh Post had recently been slapped with a tax bill for US$3.9 million that has evidently been settled as part of the sale. Another independent English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, was forced to close after being presented with an astronomical tax bill last year.
Such tactics obviously jeopardize any hope of maintaining a moderately free press in Cambodia, but should also be of grave concern to all investors in the country who may find themselves on the wrong side of officialdom or vested interests with no viable legal recourse.
"This is a transparent misuse of power intended to choke off independent media and reporting in the run-up to July's national elections," said Brad Adams, the Asia director of US-based Human Rights Watch. "Hun Sen has effectively killed the spirit and practice of independent journalism that so many Cambodians have struggled and even died for over the past 25 years. Donors have poured billions of dollars into Cambodia in an effort to help the country transform into a rights-respecting, multiparty democracy."
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, which has seen its popularity erode in recent polls, has adopted increasingly extreme tactics against its critics, real and perceived. Apart from official targeting of local and foreign media, particularly radio stations, the Supreme Court in November ordered the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Kem Sokha, its president, has been imprisoned since September, and other key opposition figures have been forced to seek sanctuary abroad.
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