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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - One-China tussle reshapes Chinese press

One-China tussle reshapes Chinese press

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The November launch of the upstart Chinese-language tabloid Sin Chew Daily has

broken the traditional pro-Beijing editorial bias of the local Chinese media and

sparked a fierce distribution war among Cambodia's now four Chinese-language

papers.

Cambodia's Chinese newspapers ... only one daily not committed to Beijing

Debuting just days before the state visit of China's President

Jiang Zemin, the Sin Chew Daily has departed from the dull gray walls of text

that have long characterized Cambodia's Chinese-language press with a slick

tabloid style complete with full-color student, sports and entertainment

sections.

But according to Sin Chew's General Manager, Loh Swee Ping, the

substance of the paper's contents is the key distinction between Sin Chew and

its longer established rivals The Commercial News, Jian Hua Daily and The New

Epoch Daily.

"Those other papers are all pro-China," Swee Ping says of

her competition. "We are more independent and professional in our editorial

policies."

As proof, Swee Ping points to the Chinese media's coverage of

President Jiang's visit.

"Sin Chew Daily was the only Chinese paper to

report that students were protesting his visit," she said. "The other papers

didn't even mention that fact."

Ideological cracks in the editorial

policies of the local Chinese press began as early as April in the wake of a

pro-Taiwanese independence editorial that appeared in the normally staid,

pro-Beijing Commercial News.

The editorial, which was reportedly slipped

into the paper unnoticed by a new editor during the run-up to the Khmer New

Year, sparked a furious response from the Association of Chinese in Cambodia

(ACC), the country's most influential grouping of Cambodian ethnic

Chinese.

Commercial News added insult to injury in the eyes of the ACC by

simultaneously introducing a "letter to the editor" feature - previously unknown

in the Chinese local press - which raised ACC hackles for publishing complaints

about such things as the profits being reaped by ACC- supported Chinese schools.

ACC pressure caused the feature to be dropped within a month.

But the

damage had been done, and by August ACC, mindful of the money, business

connections and legitimacy afforded it by close ties with the Chinese Embassy,

opted to establish the Jian Hua Daily, which debuted in August.

"The

opinions of Commercial News were not that of local [ethnic Chinese] people,"

Jian Hua spokesman Yang Han said of the association's decision to open its own

newspaper. "Cambodian Chinese need their own voice ... they do not support

Taiwan's "Two China" policy."

Jian Hua's Editor-In-Chief, Yang Wen, a

veteran of Cambodia's largest 1960s-era Chinese newspaper, the Khmer Chinese

Daily, is well accustomed to toeing ideological lines.

In an ethnographic

survey of Cambodia's ethnic Chinese population, sinologist Penny Edwards notes

that a flourishing competition between newspapers sympathetic to Taiwan's ruling

KMT and those supportive of the communists in Beijing ended abruptly in 1967

"under pressure from the Chinese Embassy who had lined up an advertising boycott

unless Phnom Penh's Chinese press fell in line following Cambodia's recognition

of Peking".

That pressure backfired in November 1967, when King Sihanouk

indefinitely suspended publication of all Chinese and Vietnamese language papers

on the justification that they were all "under the orders of Peking and

Hanoi".

When asked why Jian Hua did not cover the anti-Jiang protests

last month, Wen said, "Some news can have a negative impact on our government

and isn't worth covering."

Over at the offices of the Commercial News,

Manager Kwok Wen Hui would prefer to talk about his paper's competitive

advantages than recent controversy over its editorial line.

Founded in

1992, the Commercial News is Cambodia's oldest Chinese paper and claims a daily

circulation of 9000 copies, dwarfing the 1000-to-1500 copy print runs of its

rivals.

According to Hui, Commercial News's long history means it is

under no threat from its new competitors.

"This is a small market and the

newspaper business is all about advertising," Hui says confidently. "If you

don't have advertisers, you can't survive, and the Commercial News has excellent

relations with its advertisers."

Hui refused to concede that recent

changes in the Commercial News format - including new color pages and a student

section - were a reaction to the flashier style of the Sin Chew

Daily.

"We're adapting to changes in the market," he said.

Hui

likewise emphasized that the Commerical News's traditional pro-Beijing editorial

line remained, in spite of the events of April.

In explaining why the

Commercial News had not covered the student protests that greeted Jiang's visit,

Hui said that it "would not be polite to do that kind of story".

The

other new arrival in the Chinese language market is the New Epoch Daily, founded

in March of this year.

For Manager Chang Huang Keak, a native of China's

Canton Province, the challenges of the business side of running a newspaper make

ideological concerns a distant second in terms of priorities.

"It's

really difficult to find competent staff in Phnom Penh, and this market is now

extremely tight with four papers competing," Keak said. "For the first six

months we gave away the paper free, so now we are concentrating on making the

paper profitable."

Keak told the Post that New Epoch was founded to give

ethnic Chinese and expatriate Chinese workers and investors in Cambodia "a wider

perspective" of news and events than the Commercial News.

Freely

admitting the editorial boundaries of his paper's reporting ("We don't write

about things like corruption or problems in the [Cambodian] Government"), Keak

says the decision not to cover the anti-Jiang protests in November was more a

question of resource allocation than an indication of a pro-China

bias.

"That was just a small thing," he said

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