This weekend’s Phnom Penh Post features a farewell from (and to) founder Michael Hayes at the end of his 17 year tenure as editor-in-chief. His passing of the baton to Seth Meixner is a transition for Michael, but also for the newspaper and all who support free expression in a region that needs it more than most.
Serving as Editor-in-Chief since he founded The Phnom Penh Post 17 years and three weeks ago (First edition: July 10, 1992), Michael has long battled to bring Cambodia’s troubled story to public view.
In addition, he and his newspaper became the first stop for foreign correspondents such as myself arriving in Phnom Penh in pursuit of stories. He has always been generous with his time, contacts and encyclopedic knowledge of Cambodia, but Michael did more than inform the public and help fellow journalists.
His most lasting legacy may well be the cadre of courageous journalists trained at the Post and who broke so many great stories.
Fittingly, in his swan song as editor, Michael names Cambodian journalists murdered between 1994 and 1997. Most were gunned down in broad daylight on the streets of Phnom Penh: Tou Chom Mongkol, Nuon Chan, Sao Chan Dara and Thun Bun Ly.
The simple fact is that I’ve never had much difficulty finding Cambodians who wanted to be reporters. And if turnover was high, it was more because people with marketable skills in the foreign-employer arena found it difficult to live on the Post’s pitifully low salaries, or the demands of working till midnight on deadline placed too heavy a price on time with families.
So if this issue seems unduly focused on me, my preference is to use the space to salute the courageous and dedicated Cambodian reporters who have worked, often at great risk to themselves and their families, for me over the last 17 years. These are the real unsung heroes of The Phnom Penh Post.
As a foreigner I have always had the option to call my embassy for help or just head to the airport and catch the next flight out. My Khmer reporters do not have these luxuries, but in spite of this many, if not most, were and still are determined to do something to help their country, to print the truth about issues and problems that were and still are related to helping Cambodia recover from 30 years of civil war and chaos.
Disclosure: In addition to owing a huge debt of gratitude to Michael for so much generosity to me over the years, I am now a minor shareholder in The Phnom Penh Post. Fortunately for The Phnom Penh Post, Michael remains very much on board as a senior editor to help with the expansion of the newspaper into a Khmer language edition.