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Cambodia Daily brings out online-only platform

A Cambodia Daily issue hangs among other newspapers at a newsstand in Phnom Penh.
A Cambodia Daily issue hangs among other newspapers at a newsstand in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Cambodia Daily brings out online-only platform

The shuttered Cambodia Daily announced late on Tuesday night that it has “relaunched” as a noncommercial publication.

On its Facebook page, the Daily announced the re-opening as “a digital only, non-commercial publication based off shore”. Several items – including an aggregated news round-up and a “Timeline of Ongoing Descent” – were posted to the Daily website yesterday.

Cambodia Daily Deputy Publisher Deborah Krisher-Steele described the relaunch as a “group effort” for which she provided the platform. Her two main objectives, she said, were to keep the people involved safe, and “keeping the hope alive that journalism isn’t squashed”.

“Cambodia needs the Cambodia Daily,” she said.

The Daily closed in early September after being handed a $6.3 million tax bill by the Tax Department. Two of its former reporters – Aun Pheap and Zsombor Peter – are facing “incitement” charges for seemingly routine reporting, and Krisher-Steele, her father Bernard Krisher and her husband Douglas Steele have all been charged for tax-related offences.

Krisher-Steele said it was unclear at this stage how exactly the Cambodia Daily would develop. “Who can strategise in such a [political] environment anyway?”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said authorities would take action against the reincarnated outlet if it were asked to do so by the Ministry of Information, which could not be reached yesterday.

While welcoming the potential reemergence of the Daily, Cambodian Institute for Media Studies Director Moeun Chhean Nariddh questioned the timing. He argued that it would need to have local staff to produce original content – not to just rely on other outlets – and had to identify the names of reporters.

“Otherwise they don’t look professional,” he said. Local reporters, however, would have to apply for press passes with the Information Ministry, which he doubted they would receive.

“For the time being they should wait until the situation has become better. Probably after the elections,” he said.

The Daily’s former politics editor, Ben Paviour, said he had concerns about the safety of the paper’s former journalists living in Cambodia, who might be implicated despite not being involved.

“This plan caught former Daily staff by surprise. Unlike Debbie, we’re here, on the ground, trying to report as freelancers or as staff for other outlets. We’re trying to get on with our careers and our lives,” he said. Krisher-Steele is based in Tokyo.

She brushed off criticism that she said might stem from “disgruntled former employees”.

“We’re not the government. We’re not obliged to be transparent about who puts together our reposts [or]  . . . to disclose who’s working on these projects,” she said, adding that the magazine the Economist also does not use bylines.

Citing safety concerns, Krisher-Steele declined to say whether staff involved were Cambodians or foreigners, or both, and whether they included former Daily staff.

According to her, an editorial team is fact-checking, though she was unsure of the total number involved because of “a fluctuating team”.

Her husband Douglas Steele, the former general manager, who is forbidden by law from leaving the country, said he wasn’t concerned the revival of the Daily could have a negative impact on his trial. “I don’t see anything wrong in what they’re doing,” he said.

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