A PROMINENT opposition-aligned newspaper has folded due to “bankruptcy”, its editor said yesterday, prompting concern from some observers that the national media landscape would continue to be dominated by outlets that support the ruling party.
Khmer Machas Srok newspaper stopped publishing last Monday in response to a recent decline in sales, editor Chum Sophal said.
“We have stopped publishing the newspaper ... due to bankruptcy. We do not know when we will start republishing,” he said.
Chum Sophal said the newspaper had traditionally generated most of its revenue from daily sales, and that these had plummeted after publisher Hang Chakra was jailed for disinformation in June 2009 for running stories about alleged government corruption.
Since March, the newspaper sold between 20 and 30 percent of the 800 to 1,000 copies printed daily, he said. Before that, the newspaper routinely sold 70 percent of printed copies.
Hang Chakra was released in April, and said shortly thereafter that the paper would continue to run stories critical of the government. Chum Sophal said yesterday, however, that staff had been reluctant to take a hard line against sitting officials, and speculated that this might have led to the loss of readership.
“We reduced our criticisms of the government after our publisher was imprisoned,” Chum Sophal said. “We are afraid of being imprisoned.”
Pen Samitthy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists and editor of the daily newspaper Rasmey Kampuchea, said he was sorry to hear Khmer Machas Srok had stopped publishing.
He added, though, that he believed newspapers should be independent rather than aligned with a particular political party.
“We should think about how to make newspapers independent, not think about opposition newspapers,” he said.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said the folding of Khmer Machas Srok would be a “great loss” for Cambodian readers. “For a democracy to flourish, you need a robust and critical press,” he said.
If Khmer Machas Srok’s closure was permanent, he added, it would leave only one other major opposition-aligned newspaper in the Kingdom.
That paper, Moneaksekar Khmer, has also faced problems recently, having shut down for six months last year when the government threatened publisher Dam Sith with defamation charges.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that he was unaware of Khmer Machas Srok’s closure, but he suggested that “untruths” – rather than reduced government criticism – had led to its decline.
“When we publish news with untruths too many times, the readers will lose confidence in the newspaper,” he said.
“They read the newspaper not to learn how to curse, but to know the truth.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY IRWIN LOY