A press freedom group has denounced the closure of the French-language newspaper Cambodge Soir and called for intervention in the publication’s future by an international organization for the promotion of the French language.
Editorial staff said Wednesday that Cambodge Soir’s parent company had announced the paper’s closure due to bankruptcy following two days of a general strike sparked by the firing of a reporter who authored an article about the forestry NGO Global Witness.
In a statement Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders said it was “outraged” by the closure and accused publisher Philippe Monnin of firing the reporter because the article “would upset the authorities.”
Both Monnin and deputy publisher Emmanuelle Billier-Gauthier declined to comment Thursday.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith denied that government officials had placed any pressure on Cambodge Soir, adding that he doubted the credibility of Reporters Without Borders.
He referred further questions to the staff of the newspaper.
Noting that Cambodge Soir received regular financial support from the Paris-based Organization Internationale de la Francophonie, which unites 55 member states, Reporters Without Borders, which is also partly funded by OIF, called on its Secretary-General Abdou Diouf to intervene.
“Although your organization had just released new funds to support this newspaper, its management has decided to terminate this 12-year-old venture on the grounds of financial difficulties,” the organization said in addressing Diouf. “We ask you to help prevent the disappearance of this exemplary French-language daily.”
Diouf did not immediately respond to e-mailed requests for comment.
Editor-in-chief Stephanie Gee said Thursday that Khieu Kanharith had expressed his support for the paper in an e-mail, which she read aloud over the telephone.
“This is not an intervention,” Khieu Kanharith wrote. “But I wish that you should be able to reach an understanding and revive the newspaper for the good of the public and of professional journalism in Cambodia.”
Gee also said the staff had received no communication from management since Tuesday but were hoping to recommence talks in order to return to work.
The company had taken belt-tightening measures in recent months, reducing the number of copies printed to 2,000, in order to return to profitability, said Gee.
Monnin’s claim of bankruptcy on Tuesday nevertheless came as a surprise.
Gee added that as the staff still hoped to return to negotiations, and that it was too soon to consider an offer from Cambodia Daily publisher Bernard Krisher to publish a four-page edition of the Cambodge Soir, three times per week for several months until the paper found support to continue independently.
The paper would be under the editorial control of the Cambodge Soir staff and revenue from those who wish to advertise in the French-language newspaper, which would be distributed as an insert in the Daily, could generate pay for the Cambodge Soir staff, Krisher said.
“Cambodge Soir made a valuable contribution to the marketplace of ideas. Its competition to The Cambodia Daily has made us a better newspaper. We have mutually benefited through our competition and should not allow it to end. Newspapers are sacred to democracy,” he said.
“Thomas Jefferson said ‘if I were to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate to choose the latter.’ That’s why we must not allow Cambodge Soir to disappear,” he added.
“As a French literature major in college, I always regarded French as the most beautiful language in the world; a newspaper in French in Cambodia should continue to be supported by those who feel as I do.”