Khmer Times Publisher to Retire Plagiarizing Pen

T Mohan, publisher of the Khmer Times, will no longer be writing for the English-language daily, a senior editor said this week, following the discovery of a trove of plagiarized material in opinion pieces written by the Malaysian businessman in his newspaper over the past 16 months.

The content stolen by Mr. Mohan and placed in his periodical opinion pieces came from a range of papers and articles by academics and journalists, an essay by an Indonesian student, and the top response to a question asking “Can You Give Five Reasons Why Laws Are Important In Any Society?” posted to the Q&A website Blurtit.com.

The Khmer Times is displayed at a newsstand in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)
The Khmer Times is displayed at a newsstand in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

Since December 15, members of the online community Khmer440 have unearthed at least 22 opinion pieces and two letters to the editor containing plagiarized material—the vast majority of which was discovered by a user named “gavinmac,” who laid out his findings in an article published on Khmer440.com five days after the initial plagiarism allegations were aired.

In the earliest case of plagiarism so far uncovered, Mr. Mohan transforms an opinion piece published by Malaysian newspaper The Star headlined “The convoluted Anwar and Khalid story”—published on August 13, 2014—into a Khmer Times piece titled “The CPP and CNRP Story,” published one day later.

In his editorial, Mr. Mohan copies, nearly verbatim, the first three paragraphs of The Star’s article, which was written by Malaysian politician Zaid Ibrahim. Where Mr. Ibrahim writes: “But in the real world called Selangor, reality is proving to be something else”—a reference to the Malaysian state—Mr. Mohan simply substitutes “Selangor” with “Cambodia.”

Nearly a year later, Mr. Mohan appropriates a quotation in an August 2 opinion piece titled “Culture of Dialogue or Pragmatic Politics,” in which a “veteran politician” speaks to him anonymously “over a cup of coffee” about switching political parties.

“You’re not in office for yourself, but for your constituents. It’s a big advantage if you’re with the administration, because they’re the ones in power who can give benefits to your constituents,” the anonymous politician reportedly told Mr. Mohan.

The exact quote—minus one comma—also appeared in an opinion piece published online and written two years earlier by a Filipino undergraduate named Raymond Clarence Yu Rodis, who attributes the remarks to a Filipino congressman that had swapped political parties.

The latest opinion piece to contain the unattributed work of another writer was published on December 15 in an editorial headlined “Applause for Resumption of Culture of Dialogue,” which praised a meeting between CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha and Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

The article includes passages lifted from an essay written by a U.S.-based Jesuit priest titled “Creating a Culture of Dialogue: Methodology of Interreligious Dialogue.”

Mr. Mohan’s plagiarism most recently came to light after Douglas Steele, The Cambodia Daily’s general manager, wrote about it on Twitter, and on Khmer440 using the handle “CDLongtime.” The Cambodia Daily maintains a strict divide between its business and editorial operations, and editorial staff were not informed in advance of Mr. Steele’s decision to make the posts online.

In reaction to the revelations of plagiarism, the Khmer Times—which began printing in May 2014 —published a short notice on Thursday last week notifying readers that it took “seriously allegations of plagiarism made against the publisher of this paper in several opinion pieces.”

It added that acting editor-in-chief Terry Friel had “assumed responsibility for editing the opinion page” and that an internal investigation had begun.

Contacted this week, Mr. Friel and executive editor Cheang Sokha referred questions about the scandal to nation editor Vincent MacIsaac, who joined the paper in June of this year.

Mr. MacIsaac said on Tuesday that Mr. Mohan’s byline would no longer be appearing in the newspaper.

“The only thing that has changed is Mr. Mohan is no longer writing opinion pieces,” he said.

Mr. MacIsaac said on Wednesday that an investigation into Mr. Mohan’s plagiarism was indeed underway, with Mr. Friel and himself slowly wading through Mr. Mohan’s opinion pieces.

“We will make an assessment,” he said. “We have to actually read the stuff itself, and as you know, it is Christmas and almost half of our expat staff is home.”

Mr. MacIsaac said that as of Wednesday afternoon, he had been able to look through “four to five” articles written by Mr. Mohan. “It’s very slow work; it’s very laborious because I go through it sentence by sentence.”

The editor said the Khmer Times would make an announcement in today’s newspaper about the investigation and additional editorial changes being made at the paper—including the formation of an “editorial committee” and a shift to a Cambodian-led news operation.

“This is not only a reaction to the scandal, it’s not a P.R. move, it’s something that has been planned, but accelerated,” Mr. MacIsaac said of the decision.

Mr. Mohan declined to be interviewed for this article.

“It is not appropriate for me to comment on myself,” Mr. Mohan wrote in an email on Wednesday, referring all questions to Mr. MacIsaac.

While Mr. Mohan was listed on the masthead of Tuesday’s edition of the Khmer Times as both the publisher and managing editor of the newspaper, on Wednesday’s edition listed him only as publisher.

In an email on Wednesday, Mr. MacIsaac provided text from what he said was an email sent by Mr. Mohan to staff at the Khmer Times early on Wednesday morning.

“I take full responsibility and this will only accelerate my original plans to be hands off so that a fully dedicated team which is already in place steps up and runs the paper professionally,” the email said.

James Brooke, who served as editor-in-chief and later managing editor of the Khmer Times between July 2014 and his departure from the newspaper last month, declined to comment on Mr. Mohan’s plagiarism and his role in editing those columns. (Disclosure: Mr. Brooke briefly served as editor-in-chief of The Cambodia Daily in 2014.)

The Khmer Times is not the first Phnom Penh-based newspaper with which Mr. Mohan has been involved.

Mr. Mohan managed the Cambodia Times from 1993 to 1995 and Cambodia Today from 1995 to 1996. Mr. Mohan was also the publisher-editor of The Vision newspaper until it closed in June 2000.

In September 2000, Mr. Mohan made headlines after he was arrested on allegations that he attempted to extort $5,000 from the vice president of what was then Naga Casino in Phnom Penh. Mr. Mohan was released three days after his arrest and has maintained his innocence.

In a response to a May 2014 Cambodia Daily article about the launch of the Khmer Times, which included information about Mr. Mohan’s history in Cambodia, Jody Hanson, a former associate editor at the Khmer Times, defended her boss in a column titled “Thank You to the Cambodian [sic] Daily.”

“To set the record straight, the publisher’s mission statement is clear and simple: first, get the message out and let the readers determine its facts and veracity. Secondly, fulfil a passion for writing and journalism. And, thirdly, make money as that is the ultimate objective of all businesses,” Ms. Hanson wrote.

“In the business world in Cambodia, it seems that a lot of people get arrested and then released. Sort of a right-of-passage, rather like getting a handbag snatched or a laptop stolen. It happens.”

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