The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong expresses deep regret over the closure of The Cambodia Daily, which ceased operations on September 4 under government threats of legal action over a tax dispute. The independent newspaper, established in 1993 to provide a foundation of press freedom in an emerging democracy, trained dozens of local journalists and boasts an alumni spread across media outlets around the region and the world. Its demise is a blow to press freedom and diversity.
As the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia has noted, the government calculated a huge tax bill without referring to The Cambodia Daily’s books, and gave no opportunity for the newspaper to appeal or negotiate. Moreover, the Tax Department has reportedly filed criminal charges against its founder and two directors that could see them jailed for six years.
The episode shows how quickly a government can use its powers to silence the press, particularly smaller local independent publications lacking in financial means and international reach.
The FCCHK calls on the Cambodian government to drop any criminal charges against the publishers and seek a fair resolution of the tax dispute with The Cambodia Daily. It also urges the government to refrain from any other actions that undermine press freedom in the country, bearing in mind the benefits that a robust media environment serves in fostering democracy and promoting transparency.
The Cambodia Daily, whose motto was “All the News Without Fear or Favor”, sought to be a voice for the voiceless. Its abrupt closure after a quarter of a century shows that press freedom cannot be taken for granted.