THE Khmer press, known for neither tact nor scruple, has produced a tale of intrigue
and acrimony about its own profession.
It is a story with allegations of cash handouts from provincial governors and payoffs
from illegal gambling dens, but just what the facts are remain suitably unclear.
In its June 24-25 issue, the Sangkrous Khmer published a front-page story about a
former reporter titled: "Dot Sadeth is a dishonest person."
The article accused Sadeth of using his press credentials after the paper had fired
"Just recently, Dot Sadeth took our newspaper's name to use for every purpose
which is against the professional standards of journalists," the article stated.
"Sangkrous Khmer now declares that it does not recognize this dishonest person."
Now an editor at Khmer Thought, Sadeth is suing the paper for defamation.
As the case begins its slow journey through the court system, both he and Sangkrous
Khmer publisher Thann Vutha have continued to use the medium they are most comfortable
with to air their complaints against each other: the press.
Vutha ran a second front-page article in his paper's next issue asking Minister of
Information Ieng Mouly to stop Sadeth from practicing as a journalist.
Reporters at the paper said they had never seen Sadeth around the office, but knew
of him because of complaints from government officials.
Thann Vuthy, the publisher's brother and co-worker, said Sadeth was sacked "because
he never writes articles for the newspaper and for other reasons that I do not know".
Vutha could not be reached for comment.
Sadeth described a different situation, filled with scandalous stories about his
former employers. He said he was fired by Vutha after refusing to share money given
to him by the governors of Siem Reap and Battambang.
"My cousin asked me to go with him to Siem Reap to see our uncle who is ill,"
he said. "I asked the publisher for permission to go. He agreed and told me
to meet with the provincial governor and ask for money for the newspaper.
"I stayed in Siem Reap for six days. The first day I went to see the provincial
governor of Siem Reap, Mr. Toan Chay. He gave me $40 as a gift for my accommodation,
food and transport. The second day I met with the First Deputy Gov. [Nao Sam], and
he gave me $50 for the same purpose."
Sadeth said he visited another deputy governor in Siem Reap and Nam Tum, a Battambang
deputy governor, collecting a grand total of $120.
No reasonable explanation was given to the Post as to why the publisher or reporter
thought the governors would give money, nor why it was tendered.
Sadeth, after spending most of the money on what he says it was intended for - himself
- said Vutha became enraged and took away his press card. The argument was settled
only after Vutha made Sadeth sign a contract saying he would not use the paper's
name for his own interests.
"Even if I had received 1,000 times that amount, there is no point in giving
the money to [Vutha]," Sadeth said. "I went on a private trip to visit
my relatives. The money was given to me for my personal expenses."
According to Sadeth, the two had their final falling out after Vutha accused him
of going to Tuol Kork to extort money from an illegal gambling ring. He said it was
an odd reason for dismissal because the paper often accepts money from the gambling
rings in return for ignoring their activities.
The first article about Sadeth was printed a short time later.
The League of Cambodian Journalists (LCJ) has been attempting to mediate the dispute
between Vutha and Sadeth and keep them out of court.
"I want to solve the problem, but Sadeth does not agree," said Om Chandara,
secretary general of the LCJ. "The publisher of Sangkrous Khmer also does not
take my advice. He will not even visit me at my office."
When asked about allegations of handouts and bribes being accepted by local papers,
Chandara shook his head and said, "I think this concept has just arisen recently."
In a letter to LCJ president Chum Kanal, Sadeth listed his grievances against Vutha,
demanding a complete retraction and 5 million riel in compensation. A suggested settlement
of a retraction only has been rejected by both parties.
Chandara predicted that it will take a long time to resolve the conflict because
the court is unwilling to rule on defamation after the Chan Ratana case.
The judiciary has felt slighted by charges that it is controlled by the executive
branch of the government, and the subsequent Royal pardon for Ratana, overturning
the court's decision, Chandara said.
Even if it takes time to reach a decision, Sadeth said he will try to clear his name
through the judiciary, which has told him that his case is currently under investigation.
"I only hope that the court will be independent in its decision, and that local
newspapers will be fair to their reporters."
Regardless of these ideals, accepting money started Sadeth's problems, and 5 million
riel is what he thinks will best solve them.