PHNOM PENH – At least seven more staff resigned from Cambodia’s last independent newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, on Tuesday – a day after the firing and walkout of senior editorial employees in a dispute with the new owner.
Reporter Erin Handley said in an evening tweet: “Today we have had seven more resignations from @phnompenhpost, including, I’m sad to say, my own.”
Quinn Libson also confirmed her resignation on Twitter, adding that there were no foreign reporters remaining on staff.
The seven joined six other staff who resigned Monday after editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong was fired.
Handley told EFE there was sadness and frustration in the newsroom on Tuesday and cited “irreconcilable differences” with the new management, saying that although they talk about following the Post’s legacy, they have let “crucial parts” of that legacy go.
On Monday the Post ran a story on the sale of the daily, announced Saturday, reporting connections between the new owner Sivakumar S. Ganapathy and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as the Malaysian government.
The Malaysian owner is also the CEO and managing director of Asia PR, a public relations agency in Kuala Lumpur. Its website lists past clients as “Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry to the government seat” among other Cambodia-Malaysia connections.
A Malaysian representative of the new ownership appeared in the Post newsroom Monday with a lawyer and urged the two authors of the so-called “damaging” article – national reporter Ananth Baliga and business editor Brendan O’Byrne – to remove it from the website, which they refused to do.
They went on to fire Kay Kimsong and accepted the resignations of the two reporters, which were followed by walk-outs of managing editor Stuart White, web editor Jenni Reid, digital director Jodie DeJonge and CEO Marcus Holmes.
Some 23 editorial employees released a statement after Monday’s incident expressing their “disgust for this decision made in contradiction to the values of a free press that our hardworking staff have upheld since 1992.”
The new owner, who had underlined his intention to preserve the legacy of the country’s last independent daily while announcing the purchase, also released a statement lashing out at the reporters.
“The above said article is a disgrace and an insult to the independence claim of the newspaper and borders on internal sabotage,” Sivakumar said.
He added that the links between himself and the Malaysian and Cambodian governments were “totally untrue and cannot be concluded based on what took place between the PR firm and the client more than 25 years ago.”
On Tuesday, a drastically pared-down issue of the paper was published, reporting on the firing and walk-outs, and a reduced staff had returned to work.
Post reporter Alessandro Sassoon on Tuesday morning tweeted, “New @phnompenhpost editor in chief asked staff what to do this morning in order to put out English language edition. Clearly forcing out half the staff was not a well thought out course of action.”
Reporter Libson said on social media that “on a normal day we’d be in the morning meeting. Reporters would be pitching stories and sub-edits would be assigned. Today, nothing. We’ve heard exactly zero information from our new boss.”
The Malaysian investor on Friday sealed the acquisition agreement for the Post, which faced a demand for payment of $3.9 million from the Cambodian tax authorities.
The Post’s former proprietor, Australian businessman Bill Clough, said while announcing the purchase that the sale was concluded after reaching a friendly agreement with the Cambodian authorities to settle the debt, but did not mention the sum involved.
The Post, whose Cambodian edition has five million followers on Facebook, was founded in 1992 by Americans Michael Hayes and Kathleen O’Keefe, who sold it to Clough in 2007.
The sale occurred eight months after Cambodia Daily, the only other independent English-language newspaper in the country, was forced to close over allegations it owed millions of dollars in taxes.
The closure of the Daily was followed by that of some 20 local broadcasters that aired bulletins from independent radio stations such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.
This contributed to Cambodia dropping 10 positions to a ranking of 142 out of 180 countries in the latest report on freedom of the press by Reporters Without Borders.