The new owner of the Phnom Penh Post Sivakumar S. Ganapathy has held his first media conference since taking over Cambodia’s longest-running English language newspaper in a heated encounter that saw him field questions on the publication’s tax bill and the future of the company
Sitting alongside his lawyer Ly Tayseng, his new executive-editor-in-chief Joshua Purushotman and Anthony Galliano of Cambodian Investment Management, Sivakumar S. Ganapathy hosted a room full of journalists at the Himawari Hotel this afternoon. The Malaysian businessman recently took over ownership of the Post after purchasing the paper from Australian mining magnate Bill Clough.
In a statement read out by Ganapathy at the conference, he said that he had been “demonised by certain journalists in the Phnom Penh Post (a newspaper which I technically own)… [even though] Bill Clough had explicitly given an assurance that the legacy of the Phnom Penh Post would be continued and that it was a purchase by an individual and not a company of any sort.”
Ganapathy reiterated many times throughout the conference that the purchase was a business decision and that he wanted to turn around the fortunes of the paper, saying that “it was an opportune time and opportune product, and we went for it.”
“I hope I’m not going to be regretful for doing such a thing. I have searched within my conscience that I have actually saved a newspaper with such a huge staff strength,” he said.
When pressed by journalists to explain why the tax bill of $3.9m that the Post had been facing suddenly disappeared the day after the sale of the newspaper was announced, Galliano, who was appointed as an investment consultant by Ganapathy, responded that it was taken care of by the former owner.
“[The tax bill] got a hell of a lot more attention from the seller, with a lot more resources and a lot more concentration on getting it resolved, with an offer on the table. So given that the transaction had a deadline there were significant resources from the seller to get it resolved…”
During the conference, Ganapathy repeatedly denied that he had personal links to the Cambodian government, explicitly denied reports that the Post had been targeted by Vietnamese hackers and refused to comment on whether he thought there was a media crackdown being carried out in Cambodia—despite the recent closure of over 30 radio stations critical of the government including Voice of America and Radio Free Asia (RFA), the shutting of the Post’s cross-town rival the Cambodia Daily, as well as the ongoing imprisonment of two RFA journalists.
He also questioned why journalists needed to be “critical” of the government saying “where I come from, we report the facts.”
In the statement read out at the beginning of the conference, Ganapathy listed three steps that are being taken to move forward, including “rationalising the operations” of the Phnom Penh Post, streamlining operations to become cost efficient and restructuring the organisation in keeping with the objectives.
In response to a question about how he would be able to sustain a newspaper while a billionaire mining magnate could not, Ganapathy replied, “I’m a businessman. If I buy an entity, of course I want to make money.”
Phnom Penh Post staff who resigned after the takeover were barred from attending the press conference. In what Ganapathy himself described as a “rocky start” to his ownership of the paper, the former editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong was fired and there was a mass staff walkout by members of the editorial team. This came after an article was published by the Post titled “PR firm linked to PM buys the Post”, which Ganapathy slammed saying in a statement that it was a “disgrace and an insult to the independence claim of the newspaper and borders on internal sabotage.”