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French Newspaper Bids Readers Adieu

Cambodian child vendors sell newspapers to a car driver at a retail gaz station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cambodge Soir, which had been a unique voice and source of news in French for 15 years, closed its doors last week. Staff members packed up their offices, with some equipment expected to go to auction, as revenue and readers for the paper fell.

“Cambodge Soir never earned an income over 15 years,” said Pen Bona, co-editor-in-chief, at the paper's offices last week. “Due to the small market, the weekly printing of 1,500 copies cannot balance against expenses.”

Gerome Moriniere, director of the newspaper, said only about 1,000 of 4,000 French residents in Cambodia read the paper, which cost about $40,000 per month to run and brought in about $15,000 per month in revenue.

“The sales did not work,” Peou Sothy, who was in charge of administration at the weekly, said. “Subscriptions went down from 50 copies, to 20 or 10, and the revenue was also down.”

Cambodge Soir began as a thrice-weekly paper in May 1995, and within two years it had gone daily. But it saw a dramatic revolt of reporters after a French journalist was fired in 2007 following his reporting on the environmental watchdog Global Witness and the timber trade.

Over the years, six reporters earned awards from the US Embassy, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and Reporters Without Borders.

“I regret this,” said Adrien Le Gal, deputy editor-in-chief. “I arrived in Cambodia and was recruited to cover the legislative election in 2008, and after that I followed the [Khmer Rouge tribunal] hearing of Duch.”

In the two and a half years he spent at the paper, Le Gal said, he experienced “great professionalism in Cambodia” and learned “how to improve myself in the organization and in the functioning of a dual-nationality group.”

With the closing of the paper, staff members and reporters began to seek out new work.

“I'm searching for the same job with other media,” said Nhim Sophal, who reported for 12 years at Cambodge Soir.

The paper had stayed afloat with the support of the International Organization of Francophones, the French Embassy and subscriptions. Le Gal said that despite the support, there were “less and less” French speakers in Cambodia, which led to its decline.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, however, said the paper suffered from weak marketing and a lack of cooperation from the French business community.

“It is very regrettable,” he said. “Cambodge Soir was one of the newspapers that the prime minister has congratulated, but even the Total company, which has billions of dollars, did not post advertisements in it, although they did in the English-language newspapers. There are French hotel owners, but they did not subscribe. This means that to keep a newspaper alive, they must have good skills in marketing.”

Mu Sochua, a National Assembly lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, expressed regret for the loss of a “professional and independent” newspaper.

Martin Daubard, charge d'affaires for the French Embassy, said the ambassador too regretted the closure.

“The death of a newspaper is still to be deplored in all countries of the world and all languages since the press is often the largest organ of and most direct expression of democracy,” he said.