Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Daily silenced after 24 years

Daily silenced after 24 years

Cambodia Daily staffers check the paper’s final story list yesterday. The paper is ceasing publication today after being ordered to close due to a tax dispute.
Cambodia Daily staffers check the paper’s final story list yesterday. The paper is ceasing publication today after being ordered to close due to a tax dispute. Ananth Baliga

Daily silenced after 24 years

After 24 years of fiercely independent journalism, the Cambodia Daily will publish their final edition today due to an “exorbitant” $6.3 million tax bill levelled at them last month – an outcome critics say threatens Cambodia’s free press ahead of next year’s crucial national election.

“The power to tax is the power to destroy. And after 24 years and 15 days, the Cambodian government has destroyed The Cambodia Daily, a special and singular part Cambodia’s free press,” a statement released by the newspaper read yesterday.

The government clampdown, which has ensnared other independent news outlets like Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Voice of Democracy, also coincides with the shock arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha around midnight yesterday.

The statement yesterday acknowledged the possibility of a “legitimate” tax dispute, but that did not warrant an “astronomical” tax bill, leaks to the media and public vilification by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Assets purchased by the Daily’s current deputy publisher, Deborah Krisher-Steele, will be returned to the newspaper’s founder Bernard Krisher, who will handle the paper’s tax obligations.

“Mr. Krisher flatly asserts that the way he operated the Cambodia Daily was lawful and invites the Government of Cambodia to prosecute him if it believes otherwise. If charged, Mr Krisher will return to Cambodia,” the statement reads.

While the ceasing of operations might have signalled an end to the government’s pursuit of the newspaper, Tax Department head Kong Vibol told government mouthpiece Fresh News that it would press ahead in an effort to retrieve the debt, threatening to prevent those responsible from leaving the country.

“The one who is responsible for this news institution is the one who is responsible for the state debt. They cannot escape or leave Cambodia because we follow [the] tax law of Cambodia,” he said, but could not be reached for comments later.

The Cambodia Daily has played an integral part in providing the Cambodian public with an independent source of news, and that continued even on the newspaper’s last day, with reporters fervently working to cover the arrest of Kem Sokha – some editors and journalists had been following the story since 2am.

Despite the sombre mood in the Daily offices yesterday, reporters were hard at work to file what would be their last story for the newspaper. But for News Editor Chhorn Chansy, the sudden closure is hard to digest.

“Sometimes I smile, but it does not mean I am happy,” he said, referring to the last four weeks. “We have the family to support. We have kids going to school and one month is too fast – we are not ready.”

While Chansy is the nerve centre of the Daily’s day-to-day operations, Aun Pheap is one of its fiercest reporters. With a smile on his face, Pheap does not miss an opportunity to talk at length about illegal logging in Cambodia – an issue that he has extensively covered. He recently won an award for reporting on the military’s involvement in logging activities, with reporting partner Zsombor Peter.

Staffers walk through the Cambodia Daily’s newsroom this week in front of a blown-up image of the paper’s first edition. Afp
Staffers walk through the Cambodia Daily’s newsroom this week in front of a blown-up image of the paper’s first edition. AFP

“I and also Zsombor sometimes got threats from those okhna [tycoons] and also from military commanders, but we still [kept] writing,” he said.

“Even though the government ignores the information published by independent newspapers, we still keep writing about illegal logging and smuggling of wood to Vietnam.”

The Daily’s impact was certainly not lost on the Post, where every morning reporters and editors make a beeline to grab the morning copy of their cross-town rivals. The ritual of perusing the Daily for scoops or exclusives was not just an act of self-flagellation; it was also an acknowledgement that a vibrant and competitive press strengthened independent journalism in the Kingdom.

“On the news desk when big stories were breaking, you always left the office riddled with anxiety, worrying that the Daily might have crucial details or some obscure, important insight that you had missed,” said David Boyle, former managing editor at the Post.

“[T]he competition had a profoundly positive effect on the quality of reporting and as a result Cambodia enjoyed what I believe was the highest standard of news coverage of any country in the region.”

In the back of the Daily office sit two of the newspaper’s stalwarts – Kim Chan and Van Roeun – who between them boast more than four decades of experience.

Chan is somber about leaving a newspaper he has worked for 22 years. He seems to have done everything at the newspaper – collecting information from various sources across the city in the 1990s, translating Khmer copy for foreign colleagues and occasionally assisting with reporting when the newsroom was in a crunch.

Roeun still won’t give up the chance to have a quick laugh when he jokingly suggests starting his own newspaper.

In his 20 years at the independent media coalface, Roeun has seen it all – even other threats to close the Daily – but he never thought it would actually happen. “Tomorrow morning you will pick up the last copy of the Daily. And that’s it, everything is gone,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Preah Vihear court drops charges against villagers

    The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has dropped all charges against eight ethnic Kuoy villagers who were in a land dispute with the Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co Ltd since 2014. Wednesday’s decision was made by the judge who tried the case on June 10. The eight

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Eighty replacement peacekeepers set for Mali mission despite Covid

    Eighty Cambodian blue helmet soldiers who completed the peacekeeping mission under the UN umbrella in Mali will return to Cambodia on Friday, said the Centre for Peacekeeping Forces spokeswoman Kosal Malida. “To protect their families and communities from the Covid-19 pandemic, the 80 are required to

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this