A lot has been written and said about the closure of the Cambodia Daily, some of it factual, some of it emotional and some of it lacking sense. Here’s my take.
As a second generation journalist, I hate to see any newspapers close for the simple reason that people like me lose their jobs and readers lose the opportunity to hear a variety of views.
Over a long career, I’ve found myself unemployed twice when newspapers have been shut down and I would never wish that fate on another journalist – especially with so many newspapers around the world shedding staff and cutting costs.
The people I feel for most in this case are the Daily’s local journalists, some with families to support.
While it’s still sad to see people lose their jobs and livelihoods, the mostly young foreign journalists at the Daily can move on and look for other jobs in Cambodia or in the region, and if that doesn’t work out, they can look for work in their home countries. But the Daily’s local journalists will struggle to find work in such a small market. Those local journalists are the real victims in this sorry tale.
As a former editor of The Phnom Penh Post and the current editor of Khmer Times, I’m in the unusual and unique position of twice having the Cambodia Daily as a rival.
And I’ve been targeted by the Daily – the Daily attacked me in print twice when I was at the other paper and both times I replied and quickly silenced them. I have never attacked their newspaper, only replied to the unwarranted and unfair criticisms they printed about me.
The Daily has also attacked Khmer Times on a number of occasions before I became editor.
While the Daily was quick to attack other publications or their editors over the years, their attacks were launched from an uneven playing field.
As Minister for Information Khieu Kanharith pointed out on August 24: “There were many foreign newspapers that filed complaints about the Cambodia Daily.” He went on to say that some of those filing complaints were Japanese and Chinese publications.
To the best of my knowledge, neither The Phnom Penh Post nor Khmer Times ever filed a complaint against the Daily during my time at both newspapers.
“So there were many complaints from foreign newspapers to demand equal treatment for fair competition because all those newspapers paid taxes, except the Cambodia Daily,” the minister added.
Myself and the many other former employees of The Phnom Penh Post working at Khmer Times also had to pay back taxes from the time we worked at the Post.
Apart from the Daily not paying its taxes, there is another issue that should also be mentioned.
The Daily, which for most of its 25 years operated as a non-profit NGO newsletter training local journalists, also never paid to use stories from news agencies like Reuters or Agence France Presse and in the past it never paid for the right to reprint stories from major newspapers in the United States.
This free access to wire services and lifting rights from other papers was done under the guise of being a charity or NGO newsletter set up to train local journalists. I use the word newsletter because the generally accepted definition of a newspaper is a publication that comes in two basic sizes – broadsheet or tabloid.
The other two English-language newspapers in Cambodia pay substantial sums of money to use those services, which are vital when it comes to bringing their readers international news and photographs.
So it was never a level playing field for the Daily’s competitors.
But despite the advantages the Daily operated under, it is still sad to see it closed and to see yet more journalists out of work.
Over the years the Daily’s journalists broke some big stories and many of the people who learned their profession there went on to bigger and better things in journalism.
I hope the current crop of journalists who had been working at the Daily do the same.