Mekong Times newspaper shuts down

Cambodia’s brewing newspaper war claimed its first victim this week, with closure of the English-language Mekong Times.

Mekong Times’ editor-in-chief, Neth Pheaktra, told the DPA news agency that a lack of funds had forced the closure of the hard copy edition but that the paper, which also published in Khmer, was still considering options for putting out an online edition.

The Phnom Penh Post reported details of the business:

The Mekong Times, which employed more than 40 staff and ran on a budget of about US$30,000 a month, opened on February 8 and had published 135 editions. The 12-page newspaper, with a four-page Khmer-language insert, covered local, regional and international news, and had in the past received praise from Prime Minister Hun Sen for its integrity and impartial reporting.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that the discontinuation of The Mekong Times was unfortunate because it meant a loss of balance in the information presented by foreign media.

I am not a neutral observer in this newspaper war (Disclosure: I am an investor in the Phnom Penh Post), but am greatly saddened by the closure both as a reader and as an investor.

As a reader, newspapers are always best in a highly competitive environment. Competition keeps reporters lively.

As an investor, a shrinking of the market is always bad news. The more publications there are, the more aware advertisers become of the value of newspapers. My hope is that the battling newspapers expand the market rather than eat each other.

Hong Kong’s English-language publishing market offers an example of what I hope Cambodia avoids. The South China Morning Post has developed a de facto monopoly on English-language news on Hong Kong. This is bad for the reporters (they can become lazy) it is bad for ad sales (hard to convince advertisers to look at a shrinking market).

Despite closure of the Mekong Times, the DPA story goes on to say that Cambodia’s media is not suffering overall from shrinkage:

Cambodia’s Khmer and English-language media market has exploded recently, giving advertisers a much broader range of choices.

Magazines on subjects from specialty computer and mobile phone glossies to interior design advice decorate news stands as the country’s burgeoning middle class spreads its consumer wings.

Short-lived English-language weekly magazine The Advisor closed for ‘a hiatus’ earlier this month, saying advertisers were increasingly embracing the cheaper option of internet websites, and its parent Expat Advisory Services continues to operate online.

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