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Phnom Penh's newsprint battles.

A newspaper war has broken out in wild and woolly Phnom Penh, establishing the Cambodian capital as one of Indochina's freest press enclaves.

While waves of hustlers, high-spending United Nations peacekeepers and Khmer Rouge bandits over-run the city before critical national elections, two English-language tabloids have staked their turf alongside Khmer-language mainstays largely controlled by local politicians.

The Phnom Penh Post, which appears every two weeks and has a circulation of 4,000, was launched last July by an American couple, Michael and Kathleen Hayes. The Cambodia Times, financed with $300,000 from a group of Hong Kong investors, appeared three days later and claimed an initial weekly circulation of 40,000, the nation's largest. Each publication is chasing readers among the capital's 22,000 peacekeepers, 5,000 foreign investors and hundreds of local officials.

An intrepid idealist who gave up a desk job in Bangkok as a grant administrator, Michael Hayes says he and his wife began the Post to provide coverage of U.N. intervention but soon expanded coverage. The paper began only eight pages long with a few restaurant ads, but it has since doubled in size and includes corporate advertisers such as Canon, the BBC and Cambodia Air Lines.

Both newspapers tackle issues such as corruption, traffic problems, the embarrassing behavior of "hot-blooded" U.N. workers and the giant, messy juggernaut that is the peace process. But the similarities end there. The Post covers more local news and its political stories, often written for free by respected U.S. and European correspondents who cover the region for other publications, are better sourced and written; the colorful 24-page Times keeps its reports shorter and crisper and is regularly filled with beer and airline ads. Both newspapers insist they are independent, although some readers consider the Times more supportive than critical of the current Vietnam-installed government.

Times Editor Kamar Al Zaman Rawana Tambu makes no secret of his plan to build a dominant national publication. A former hotel manager known as Zaman to his staff, he says the Post is too "skewed" to U.N. officials and other foreign residents. "It's a city paper," he says, explaining that he "can't rely on the [foreign] community; when they're gone, who will buy it?" To increase its base, the Times recently began a Khmer-language paper with a print run of 70,000.

Unlike the Post, Zaman concludes, his paper is "more exciting, more sensational." He considers that, then corrects himself: "Make that interesting."
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Title Annotation:Cambodia
Author:Gillotte, Tony
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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