Proudly displayed in the lobby of the Cambodia Sin Chew Daily is a blown-up color photo of the paper’s editor conducting a Q-and-A session with Hun Sen two weeks after the 1997 factional fighting.
The interview was the first between a Chinese-language newspaper and the prime minister. It was also a personal coup for Loh Swee Ping, who had been living in Cambodia for four years and had used her contacts here to swing the exclusive for her former employers, Malaysia Sin Chew.
But when Loh arrived for the interview, she found something she hadn’t bargained for—a camera crew from Cambodia’s state-run TVK. “They were covering our coverage,” she recalled. “It was meant to be an exclusive…
but I don’t think they knew what ‘exclusive’ meant.”
The incident underscores some of the problems Loh said she expects to face running a competitive and independent paper in a country that historically favors timidity among its journalists.
With Cambodia Sin Chew Daily, which had its debut in Phnom Penh last month with a print run of 3,500, Loh hopes to introduce some of the design and reporting techniques of the paper’s parent newspaper.
Based in Kuala Lumpur, the Chinese-language Sin Chew is Malaysia’s largest daily with a circulation of 310,000, according to its editor, Siew Nyoke Chow.
It is also the country’s most outspoken paper, Siew said.
By contrast, the five existing Chinese-language papers in Cambodia tend to report news without the aggressive news gathering and analysis that might ruffle official feathers, Loh said.
The papers serve a role—keeping Chinese up-to-date with what is going on in government—but they neglect other areas that are equally important, Loh said.
But Sok Reach, a staffer at the Chinese-language daily The Commercial News said Loh is too hard on her competitors.
“We do not cater to the government,” he said. “We are neutral. Those who accuse us do not know us clearly.”
On the other hand, he said he welcomes more competition. “The more dissemination of news about the Cambodian situation to the world, the better,” he said.
Sin Chew Daily offers extensive coverage of education, health, entertainment, travel and regional sport in a colorful tabloid format, Loh said.
She said she hopes readers will be attracted by a hard-hitting approach to reporting. But although Sin Chew expects its reporters to be dogged, Loh said, it also demands they be fair.
“Before I began publishing,” Loh recalled, “I was asked by Chinese leaders here, ‘will [the paper] side with China or will it side with Taiwan?’” the island nation China regards as a rogue state. “I said, ‘neither. We will be centralized. We will not side with anybody.’”
(Additional reporting by Ham Samnang)