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'The Phnom Penh Post' prints last edition in Cambodia

Citing financial issues, the 32-year-old fabled daily closed on March 29, but will continue online
'The Phnom Penh Post' prints last edition in Cambodia

A Cambodian vendor reads the 'Phnom Penh Post' newspaper at her newstand in Phnom Penh in this May 7, 2018 photo. The newspaper has published its final English and Khmer language editions after 32 years of operations amid an economic downturn. (Photo: AFP)

 

 

Published: April 01, 2024 05:24 AM GMT
Updated: April 01, 2024 05:48 AM GMT

Cambodia’s most fabled newspaper, The Phnom Penh Post, has published its final English and Khmer language editions after 32 years of operations amid an economic downturn that prompted a mixed reaction from critics and long-term observers.

The Post's senior management blamed ballooning financial costs endured after the Covid-19 pandemic and the “subsequent economic downturn” — which seemed at odds with the government trumpeting of this country’s financial prospects — for the closure.

“It is most unfortunate as I read this newspaper every day,” said Khieu Kanharith, a former information minister about the last edition of the paper on March 29.

“The loss of one paper may not affect the promotion of reading, but it does shrink the horizon of information.”

Its pending closure was announced on March 1, when the management also insisted that operations would continue online.

“The expansion of its operations in the digital sphere is being driven by a series of informative breaking stories and carefully curated video pieces on items of special interest, as well as balanced opinion piece[s],” it said in a final print editorial.

Americans Michael Hayes and his then wife, Kathleen O’Keefe, invested their life savings in starting up the The Phnom Penh Post in 1992 as United Nations peacekeepers arrived to oversee this country’s transition to democracy. Initially, the paper was printed once every two weeks.

In 2008, Hayes sold the paper to Australian mining magnate Bill Clough who turned the The Phnom Penh Post into a daily paper and subsidized losses while increasing advertising and the number of pages with a broader strategy based on long-term profits.

But a decade later he was forced to sell to government-friendly interests after the Post was hit with an unexpected $3.9 million tax bill delivered when then Prime Minister Hun Sen was initiating a broad crackdown on dissent and political opposition.

Police rounded up opposition politicians and charged them with plotting to oust Hun Sen. Other news outlets including The Cambodia Daily and Voice of Democracy were also forced to close and about 60 opposition supporters are currently serving jail terms.

Following its sale — and it should be stressed the names of the current owners are not in the public domain — the Post struggled amid a lack of funds and constant pressure to toe the government’s line, more so ahead of elections. It was constantly losing money.

“It became a government notice board,” said one critic who declined to be named. “There are plenty of publications doing the same thing so in reality it became an unnecessary financial burden and to be blunt there’s no real need for another online edition either.”

Nevertheless, Cambodian journalists were hopeful that the The Phnom Penh Post management would ensure that its online operations continue.

“Despite the fast-paced world of digital technology and the rise of online journalism, the loss of a print media giant that ran for more than 30 years is really sad,” said Puy Kea, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists.

“I would be happy if the The Phnom Penh Post continued to broadcast online. The cessation of the physical newspaper will not affect the freedom of the press, but could be a detrimental factor in the promotion of reading in Cambodia,” he said.

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