It didn’t take long for any guarantees by the new owner of Post Media to respect the editorial independence of his new purchase to fly out the window.
The ink had barely dried on the first issue of ‘the new Phnom Penh Post’ printed following the sale of Post Media Co., being announced last Saturday before management and editorial staff got a taste of the new management’s style.
“Bordering on sabotage”, “breaches ethics”, “careless and vicious reporting” read a blistering memo obtained by AEC News Today penned by former Malaysian journalist turned entrepreneur Sivakumar S Ganapathy in response to his own paper’s report on his purchase, before concluding with an order to “immediately terminate” those responsible.
By the end of what was dubbed on social media as “bloody Monday at The Phnom Penh Post‘ the company’s CEO Marcus Holmes and managing editor Stuart White had resigned, while popular editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong had been fired.
Also leaving was business editor Brendan O’Bryne and senior writer Ananth Baliga, who tended their resignations in response to an order from the new owner’s representative, Purushotman N Govindasamy (Joshua), to take down the Phnom Penh Post sold to Malaysia investor story they had written.
Also joining the exodus was digital managing editor Jodie DeJonge, who only found she had been locked out of her email and the website when she went to type her resignation letter, and web editor Jenni Reid.
Despite the sudden resignations and dismissals the remaining foreign and Khmer staff managed to produce a print edition the next day, May 8, although at 12 pages it was significantly thinner than the standard 20-page version its readers were accustomed to.
However, the print edition hitting the streets was the only good news the owners received that day with the carnage from the day prior spilling over into Tuesday.
Handing in their resignations effective immediately was The Phnom Penh Post English-language deputy managing editor, James Reddick, senior editor Michael Dickison, and sub-editors Andrew Nachemson, Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, Erin Handley, and Leonie Kijewsi. Also resigning was writer E. Quinn Libson, and two others. All in all 16 senior management and editorial staff gone in just two days.
According to a tweet by Ms Handley, the newspaper is ‘now down to zero editors’. This basically means we have no foreign news reporters or editors at The Phnom Penh Post. A sad day. Can’t say how much admiration I have for Khmer reporters who are staying despite everything.”
The mass resignations were greeted by journalists and those concerned with media freedom globally with a mixture of shock, anger, and dismay, with many quick to forecast that the days of The Phnom Penh Post appeared to be numbered.
Thrown in to the deep end and despite all the odds, Joshua Purushotman and the remaining staff have produced three subsequent print editions, comprising a wide variety of local news, features, international news, and sport.
Despite the mass exodus of foreign staff and management several of the Khmer journalists who have remained at The Phnom Penh Post English-language edition spoken to by AEC News Today remain optimistic.
“The owner has changed, but we haven’t changed”, one said, adding “we need to see how things go. Lets give it a chance. We have the power of hope to maintain what we believe in.”
Photos various sources
Leakhena Khat and Sreypov Men in Phnom Penh, and John Le Fevre in Bangkok contributed to this story
- More walkouts over new ownership of Cambodian newspaper Phnom Penh Post (The Straits Times)
- Phnom Penh Post journalists quit en masse after being told to take down article on new owner (The Drum)
- Foreign reporters quit newspaper in Cambodia en masse after sale (Reuters)
- Mass staff walkout at Phnom Penh Post owner’s self-censorship order (Asia Pacific Report)
- The Tax Man Cometh: Claims The Phnom Penh Post is Living on Borrowed Time (video) (AEC News Today)