The Phnom Penh Post, commonly referred to in Cambodia as The Post, has been continuously publishing for 31 years now. Born in 1992, the Kingdom's longest-running privately-owned newspaper, which publishes in both Khmer and English, has up-to-date content available online seven days a week, in addition to its print version.
Recently, we were shocked and dismayed at an article by BBC reporter George Wright who quoted Mech Dara, a former reporter at The Post, as saying that he left our news organisation because it was “silenced” and that he "couldn't take it anymore".
In the BBC article published on February 15, entitled “Cambodia: 'Every newsroom I work in gets silenced'”, The Post is cited without having been given the chance to respond to the claims made by Dara.
The right to respond to any allegation is a just and basic principle of professional journalism taught at all schools and workplaces, but it was disregarded by the author of this story.
Wright, a former reporter for the long-defunct Cambodia Daily, chose Dara as his story's protagonist to highlight the events surrounding the recent revocation of the licence for Voice of Democracy (VOD), an online news outlet overseen by the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM).
Wright has the right to choose whatever angle he desires for his story and to use whichever sources he deems credible, as guaranteed by the principle of freedom of the press, but there were some errors in his reporting that The Post needs to clarify.
According to Wright's article, Dara has been described by some western journalists as “one of Cambodia's most respected reporters".
As a matter of fact, Dara moved from the Cambodia Daily to The Post on December 20, 2015.
In early September 2017, the Cambodia Daily announced that it would cease operations due to an alleged unpaid tax bill of over $6 million. These dates alone prove Dara’s claim wrong, that is, that he had to move from one newsroom to another because the institutions were “shut down”.
In early May 2018, The Post underwent a change in ownership and management, prompting some staff members who were unhappy with the changes to leave.
Dara, however, continued to work at The Post for about three months until his resignation on August 2, 2018, with "pursuit of education" cited as his reason. But Dara is quoted in the BBC report as saying that he left because he “couldn't take it anymore”.
Is it true that he couldn’t take it anymore?
On September 5, 2018, just a month later, Dara contacted The Post’s human resources (HR) department, requesting his old job back.
“Hi bong, I want to go back to work at the Phnom Penh Post from September 17, ”, he wrote to our HR department via Facebook messenger.
His request was approved due to his previous contributions to the company, like many other staff members who have been rehired after leaving – with logical reasons cited – for a period of time.
His second spell at The Post lasted until February 29, 2020. That was 530 days later. If he "could not take it anymore" as he said in Wright's piece, why did he return to The Post in the first place and stay for another 530 days?
At the end of Wright’s article, Dara is quoted as saying: "Three places have been shut down. Sometimes you reach a point and you say – enough is enough."
The Post, as a matter of fact, has not been "shut down" or "silenced" and will continue to publish, with or without Dara's contributions.
One should expect that "one of Cambodia's most respected reporters", entrusted with providing unbiased and factual coverage of all news, would be able to keep the details of his work history straight.
About Dara’s personality
Those who worked with him in the newsroom can easily recognise – mistreated in his childhood by his violent father, Dara was mentally impacted. Dara could never hide his childhood issues and constantly posted on Twitter about how violent his father had been to him. He’s constantly represented as a victim.
He has serious issues with rules and authority, becoming a coward and backing down when challenged to accept responsibility for his actions. At The Post’s newsroom, we recognised Dara’s penchant for taking the side of the victim – whomever he identified as such, anyway.
But we were wary of his tendency to paint certain parties as victims beyond what the facts we know would warrant.
The newsroom saw more of Dara’s faults than his virtues, concerning: his ability to structure his reports based on facts and his level of English to express them, as well as his fearful hesitancy to go through proper investigations of his claims and allegations – these stem from prominent personality flaws that no journalist colleague could miss.
Wright used to work with Dara at the Cambodia Daily and should not have overlooked this when writing the piece about him for the BBC.