Cambodia’s Fresh News: is it journalism with Chinese characteristics?
South China Morning Post | 3 June 2018
As Cambodia’s once-robust press freedom comes under attack, Chinese-linked outlets have found new footing ahead of July elections, pushing the country’s media toward an authoritarian model – and bolstering strongman Hun Sen’s tight grip on power.
Several of his employees have been treated to reporting trips at Beijing’s expense, he said, and he travelled there in early June.
In February, he launched a Mandarin-language version of the site, which brims with articles hailing the Cambodian government’s achievements and Chinese state media coverage.
His sentiment reflects the nation’s love affair with its Communist neighbour, which floated US$1.4 billion in approved foreign direct investment in 2017 as part of its massive “Belt and Road Initiative” infrastructure plan – double the previous year and outspending all other countries.
Chinese loans have relieved Prime Minister Hun Sen of reliance on the Western aid that pushed Cambodia’s democratisation after the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign in the late 1970s.
That has given Hun Sen, who has been in office for 33 years, room to choke independent media he was once under pressure to permit, smoothing the path to election victory on July 29.
The unravelling has paralleled a crackdown on the opposition party, which was dissolved in November, prompting Western countries to pull funding for the vote.
The combative Cambodia Daily closed in September under the weight of a massive tax bill believed to be politically motivated, while the US-backed Radio Free Asia was closed and two of its reporters arrested two months later.
That left only The Phnom Penh Post, which spiralled into mayhem after a Malaysian investor – whose PR firm once worked for the government – bought the newspaper in April.
What remains are almost solely government-cosy outlets, many owned by Hun Sen’s cronies and relatives.
Though far from Beijing’s sophisticated control of information, Cambodia’s media landscape is starting to echo China’s, according to Reporters Without Borders, which defines the model as media used to promote government aims and development.
“It’s going to be journalism with Chinese characteristics,” said Cedric Alviani, head of East Asia for RSF.
A Western diplomat in Cambodia said government officials have in some cases openly praised the way Chinese media operate.