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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Forget News' set to be remembered...

'Forget News' set to be remembered...

T HE most intriguing addition to Cambodia's much-maligned local press has made an

influential debut - attracting government censure after publishing only three issues.

Forget News (Phlech Damneng) first appeared on Phnom Penh newstands early this month,

instantly entrenching itself as the most scandalous and slanderous newspaper in town.

It is also the only one apparently aimed at foreigners - for both a readership and

as an object of insult - particularly Australians.

Its inaugural issue featured 'stories' containing viotriolic allegations against

three Australians, Prime Minister Paul Keating, UN human rights representative Michael

Kirby and Ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin.

The allegations - all of a sexual nature - were written in rambling but blunt language

and appeared deliberately libelous, offensive and fantastic. In a variation on the

"fly on the wall" expression,the paper said its information came from lizards

on the walls of its targets' houses.

The four-page, A4 size newspaper - with each 'story' in Khmer and poor English -

named its publisher, Long Pha, and its editor but gave no office address.

The second edition of Forget News (apparently meaning news which is forgotten), selling

for 200 riels, emerged on newstands a week later.

A vulgar cartoon on the cover, there were further diatribes of a similar, but also

political, nature inside. The address of the paper, absent from the previous issue,

was listed on the front.

The newpaper was brought to the attention of the Australian Embassy. According to

a Foreign Ministry official quoted in Canberra, the embassy laid - and later withdrew

- a complaint to the Ministry of Information.

Forget News promptly turned out its third issue, an eight-page special, trumpeting

the news that it was under threat.

"Mr Ambassador, please do not push Cambodian to sue Cambodian," was one

headline, while a story inside said: "The teacher of democracy is fighting with

his own students of democracy now."

The paper - without being officially notified of any such action at that stage, by

its publisher's own admission - said it might be ordered closed because it was not

registered with the Ministry of Information.

It claimed that foreign-owned Cambodia Daily was not registered either, and said

"If Forget News will be closed down, do not forget about the Cambodia Daily."

Within several days, the Ministry of Information did indeed file a court application

seeking Forget News' closure because it was unregistered.

Ministry press department chief Leng Sochea said Forget News was right when it said

the Cambodia Daily was also not registered.

Cambodia Daily editors, however, strongly disputed that, saying they filed registration

papers more than a year ago.

Sochea, a Cambodia People's Party (CPP) member, told the Post he was looking forward

to the international reaction to Forget News' prosecution.

"I want to see how the human rights groups react to this.

"They used to blame us when we sued or suspended newspapers because of their

criticism of the government without proof, [or when] they drew the cartoon of the

Minister's wife as a pig, or wrote untrue stories...

"Now, this newspaper criticizes the human rights people, especially Kirby and

the Australian Ambassador. What are they going to do?"

Ambassador Tony Kevin, for his part, indicated he wasn't doing anything.

"I don't have any comment on Forget News. We think it's a piece of garbage,"

he said this week.

Asked about the Australian official's statement that the embassy had sought, then

withdrawn, a complaint against Forget News, Kevin said: "I have nothing to add

to that."

Meanwhile, at their cramped office across town, Forget News' two staff appeared not

displeased at the fuss they had created.

"If my newspaper is a success, I might ask you to come to a party," joked

the newspaper's "director" (publisher) Long Pha.

He and editor Norng Sovannroath work out of an 'office' - a desk and a few chairs

in a space several meters wide in Sovannroath's house - in Stung Mean Chey quarter

on Phnom Penh's outskirts. On the desk sits a personal computer, laser printer and

hard disk drive.

Pha and Sovannroath welcomed the Post , providing 7-Ups and cigarettes, and sat down

to answer questions. Their replies were less than frank.

"You are also a journalist, you will understand there are some things I cannot

reveal," said Pha.

A former journalist on the CPP newspaper Pracheachon and at Cambodia National Radio,

Pha has previously started two other now-defunct publications. Sovannroath is a medical

student and pharmacist who writes on the side.

Pha said he started his paper with three aims - to stop foreigners' "interfering

in Cambodia", encourage Khmers to love and help their country, and to make Forget

News "famous" abroad and in Cambodia.

Denying he was particularly anti-Australian, he said: "It's not only Australia.

Many foreign people are doing something wrong. This time I start with Australia."

Describing himself "a nationalist but not an extremist",

he said he did not insult all foreigners, only those who have done "inappropriate"

things.

On Kirby, he said the human rights representive was only concerned with "the

prisoners" and not "the situation in the countyside, the war or trafficking

in children."

Told that Kirby had made dozens of human rights recommendations about rural poverty,

insecurity and child exploitation, Pha said that was just talk.

Pha and Sovannroath, smiling at each other as questions were asked of them, grew

increasingly circumspect and gave only half-hearted replies.

They neither denied nor admitted that their stories were untrue and designed to provoke

a foreign reaction.

Pha, asked about speculation a government or political figure was funding the newspaper,

replied: "That is only rumor. Some people say that some newspaper is supported

by a political party, and they might say that our newspaper is supported by the government

or an NGO."

But he said Forget News had "no support by any political party or individual."

On whether he was a member of any political party, he said: "That is not something

you should ask about as a reporter. That is personal."

He said he funded the newspaper himself, using computer equipment he had from a former

newspaper he started and a photocopier.

He believed his Forget News could be a "great success" if it was "supported

by the readers", but didn't appear too concerned if it was suspended or closed.

"I'm not sure what will happen to my newspaper. I don't know whether it will

be closed down," he said, laughing.

In which case Long Pha might yet go down as the first newspaper publisher in Cambodia

put out of business with a smile on his face.

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