By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – The new owner of Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post newspaper said on Friday he had saved the English-language daily from closure and rejected fears the sale threatened media freedom.
At a news conference in the capital Phnom Penh, Malaysian investor Sivakumar Ganapathy discussed his negotiations with the Post’s former owner, Australian businessman Bill Clough, and events after the sale.
Ganapathy said his media background made it possible to continue the Post’s legacy of “fair and balanced reporting and commentary in upholding true journalistic values”.
“And this was the common ground in which Bill and myself reached an agreement in principle,” he said.
The sale comes during a crackdown by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his allies against perceived critics, including opposition politicians, independent media and human rights groups ahead of a general election in July.
One international rights group said the sale of the Post, which has built a reputation for independent reporting that can be critical of the government, was a “disaster” for media freedom in the country.
The Post was reportedly slapped with a $5 million tax bill last year, according to reports by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I wish to stress at this juncture that had I not purchased the Phnom Penh Post, the newspaper would have to shut down due to its financial situation,” Ganapathy said.
After the deal was announced, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief said he was fired for allowing the publication of an article about the sale, while several staff members said on social media that they had quit.
When asked if Post journalists would be allowed to write articles critical of the government, he replied: “Why is it that you should be critical? I’d rather state the facts. Our job is to state the facts.”
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Additional reporting and writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Darren Schuettler)