A French television and radio production company in partnership with the pro-government Apsara TV and radio station is considering buying the recently shuttered French-language newspaper Cambodge Soir, a company executive said June 29.
Olivier Siebert, executive-director of Solaris International, which is based in Phnom Penh, declined to answer detailed questions about any potential takeover, saying they were premature.
“Let’s say we don’t want a newspaper in French to stop,” he said. “Let’s say there are discussions, people are getting together. But I can’t tell you more.”
The 12-year-old French language daily has not appeared at newsstands in 18 days after staff walked off the job to protest the firing of a reporter. Management reportedly told staff on July 12 that their parent company, Societe des Editions du Mekong, was bankrupt.
Solaris International has produced content for the Apsara station since January of 2006.
Siebert acknowledged June 29 that Apsara was a pro-government broadcaster “like all stations” in Cambodia, but said he could not discuss any possible measures to ensure that Cambodge Soir remained an independent newspaper.
The Solaris’ president, Edmond Escabasse, currently participating in a French business delegation visiting Cambodia, could not be reached June 29.
Apsara Marketing Director Yen Sophan referred questions back to Siebert. Cambodge Soir executives said June 29 they were unaware of any such discussions with Solaris.
Emmanuelle Billier-Gauthier, the Soir’s deputy publisher, said she was personally unaware of any takeover negotiations.
Soir’s Publisher Philippe Monnin also said he was unaware of the matter.
“Look, I’ve got no idea,” he said.
Cambodge Soir Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Gee declined to comment.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and Secretary-General of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia, said that he feared for the Soir’s journalistic integrity.
“We used to [subscribe to the Soir]. Whether we are going to continue depends on whether we think the Soir is going to give us the real story,” he said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said such fears were both premature and unfair.
“Apsara is not the government. This is a private company,” he said. “If they fear for the [Soir’s] independence, do they prefer that all these people be jobless?”
“If someone attempts to take over Cambodge Soir, at least it’s something better,” he said, adding that questioning the independence of a newspaper that is not publishing was a non-starter.
“Wait until they write something down,” he added.