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Aussies Take Over At Cambodia's Phnom Penh Post

Aussie Businessmen Take Over Cambodia's Phnom Penh Post

Story From MediaBlab Australia

Two Australian businessmen with stakes in The Myanmar Times weekly have taken a controlling interest in The Phnom Penh Post, a respected Cambodian newspaper, according to Thomson Financial News.

Ross Dunkley, chief executive officer of Myanmar Consolidated Media, which publishes the Myanmar Times, said he and Bill Clough, an Australian miner and oil and gas entrepreneur, have taken a controlling stake in the paper.

The acquisition deal was formally signed in Bangkok on December 22, 2007.

He said the Cambodian paper would be run completely separately from the Myanmar publications, which include English and Myanmar-language weeklies.

The Phnom Penh Post, which publishes every two weeks, was founded by American journalist Michael Hayes 17 years ago.

Hayes will remain as editor in chief, while the project will be managed by Michel Dauguet, a French national with extensive experience working in Vietnam in media and software development.

Immediate plans for the paper are to turn it into a daily newspaper in about March. In April the newspaper will open an office in Cambodia's second largest city, Siem Reap. Australian journalist Peter Olszewski will be bureau chief in Siem Reap and will assist with the launch of the daily edition in Phnom Penh.

Olszewski, editor of MediaBlab news service, worked with Ross Dunkley in Yangon, as a journalism trainer. He wrote a book about Myanmar titled Land of a Thousand Eyes, published in Australia by Allen & Unwin.

The Myanmar Times began publishing in 2000 as that country's first private newspaper in over three decades. Dunkley also had experience working in tightly-controlled societies as editor of the Vietnam Investment Review.

MediaBlab reported late last year that this deal was in the offing (see archives.)

MediaBlab's report said that that Hayes has been saying he wants to sell for the last couple of years, and it seems the potential new buyers are keen to transform the paper into a serious daily to cash in on Cambodia's booming economy and thriving media market.

Hayes is a typically colourful expat character and landed a cameo role in the 2002 drama movie, City of Ghosts, co-written, directed by and starring Matt Dillon, about a con artist who goes to Cambodia to collect his share in money collected from an insurance scam.

Hayes plays the part of Harry an American expat who frequents a bar.

Michael Hayes first visited Cambodia in October 1974, one year before the Khmer Rouge came to power.

In October 1991, after working for an aid foundation in Thailand for several years, Michael returned to Phnom Penh looking for work and instead decided to set up the country's only independent newspaper.

Hayes and his then wife Kathleen moved into the Phnom Penh Post office, a three-story colonial villa, in May 1992. They slept on the floor, rewired the whole building and enlisted friends to bring computer equipment in with their hand luggage on trips from America.

All the printing houses were government-run and not permitted to do private print jobs, so at first the paper was printed in Bangkok and brought to Cambodia as 20 boxes of extra luggage.

The paper then forged a relationship with Wellington's Dominion newspaper in New Zealand, and the Wellington Polytechnic, now Massey University, journalism program.

Several Kiwi graduates of the university worked at the newspaper and Matthew Grainger, Jason Barber and Peter Sainsbury were to become three successive editors over seven years at the Phnom Penh Post, making up what Jason Barber called the kiwi mafia in Phnom Penh.

The paper reported, and survived, the 1997 coup. The airports closed, foreigners and volunteers were shipped out and the country was devastated, but the Post found a printer in Phnom Penh, covered the story and the paper got out on time.

The paper has continued to follow controversial stories about the human rights atrocities, poverty and corruption that are part of Cambodian society.

"All kinds of people are pissed off about our stories. Death threats are more common than Christmas cards here. People use them all the time," Michael Hayes told the Massey University Magazine.


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