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
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
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
"Those other papers are all pro-China," Swee Ping says of
her competition. "We are more independent and professional in our editorial
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
"We're adapting to changes in the market," he said.
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".
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.
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
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.
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
"That was just a small thing," he said