Yan­gon govt sues me­dia out­let

The CEO of Eleven Me­dia Group is up against a defama­tion suit filed by the Yan­gon Re­gion govern­ment for claim­ing that the chief min­is­ter owns a US$100,000 wrist­watch – and im­ply­ing that the time­piece was a bribe.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

THE Yan­gon Re­gion govern­ment has filed a defama­tion suit against Eleven Me­dia Group and its CEO U Than Htut Aung after he re­port­edly used Face­book to elab­o­rate on pre­vi­ously pub­lished al­le­ga­tions that im­plied a quid pro quo in­volv­ing the re­gion’s chief min­is­ter.

The ac­cu­sa­tion was first pub­lished in English – with­out nam­ing names – and later re­posted to U Than Htut Aung’s Face­book ac­count in Myan­mar lan­guage, the lat­ter claim­ing Chief Min­is­ter U Phyo Min Thein had ac­cepted an ex­pen­sive watch from busi­ness­man U Maung Weik.

“On so­cial me­dia, sto­ries have cir­cu­lated about a newly elected min­is­ter, mak­ing just US$2,500 [S$3,500] a month, be­ing seen wear­ing a US$100,000 Patek Philippe watch,” read the English ver­sion, pub­lished by the Asia News Net­work.

It con­tin­ued, “The in­di­vid­ual who al­legedly gave this ‘gift’ to the elected min­is­ter was re­cently re­leased from jail after serv­ing time for his in­volve­ment in a drug case. After the NLD came to power, this in­di­vid­ual’s project to build a new city re­ceived ap­proval” – an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to a planned ex­pan­sion of the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal.

At a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, U Phyo Min Thein said ini­tial le­gal ac­tion per­tained to the Face­book post, which has since been deleted, un­der the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law’s sec­tion 66(d) defama­tion clause. A sep­a­rate law­suit will be brought over a print ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the Daily Eleven news­pa­per on Novem­ber 6, car­ry­ing sim­i­lar in­sin­u­a­tions with­out nam­ing names, he said, adding that the govern­ment would con­sult with the Myan­mar Press Coun­cil be­fore fil­ing a for­mal charge.

“The leader of a me­dia out­let – a CEO and a print me­dia per­son – is not al­lowed to man­u­fac­ture a news story. That’s why I de­cided to con­tinue with the le­gal process. I also told the Press Coun­cil that cre­at­ing one’s own sto­ries by one­self and pub­lish­ing them in the me­dia is not some­thing that should be done in fu­ture,” U Phyo Min Thein said.

The Novem­ber 6 edi­tion of the Daily Eleven news­pa­per car­ried a Myan­mar-lan­guage ver­sion of the Asia News Net­work ar­ti­cle in its Edi­to­rial/ Opin­ion sec­tion un­der U Than Htut Aung’s by­line.

“The newly elected NLD of­fi­cials’ rosy re­la­tions with cor­rupt of­fi­cials from the pre­vi­ous bureaucracy are grave con­cerns of the Myan­mar peo­ple,” read the orig­i­nal English-lan­guage ar­ti­cle, which was car­ried by the Sin­ga­pore-based Straits Times, be­fore re­fer­ring to the Patek Philippe watch.

The Myan­mar Press Coun­cil con­firmed that it had re­ceived a letter of com­plaint from the Yan­gon Re­gion govern­ment. The Tarmwe Town­ship Po­lice Sta­tion also con­firmed that the re­gional govern­ment had filed a law­suit, adding that the process of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case was on­go­ing.

“It is cor­rect that they filed the law­suit for the Face­book ac­count ‘Than Htut Aung’, so we are still in our in­ves­ti­ga­tion process and noth­ing has been done,” an of­fi­cial from the po­lice sta­tion told The Myan­mar Times.

The Yan­gon Re­gion govern­ment had sent a letter to Eleven Me­dia Group on Novem­ber 7, ask­ing for a more de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of the ar­ti­cle and its ac­cu­sa­tions, but that re­quest was de­nied by EMG, which cited its eth­i­cal obli­ga­tion to pro­tect free­dom of the press.

Mean­while, the man who be­lieves he was the one ref­er­enced by U Than Htut Aung as the giver of the watch also held a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day to deny any such gen­eros­ity.

“I have never given a Patek Philippe watch as a present to any of the min­is­ters and es­pe­cially I have never given any kind of watch as a present to the Yan­gon Re­gion [Chief] Min­is­ter Phyo Min Thein,” U Maung Weik told the me­dia.

He said although the ar­ti­cle did not men­tion him by name, its de­scrip­tion of the giver clearly pointed to him, since only three com­pa­nies were in­volved in the “new city” ten­der and among them he was the only per­son re­cently re­leased from prison.

“I am hold­ing this press con­fer­ence just to clar­ify the mis­un­der­stand­ings of the pub­lic and not with the in­ten­tion of harm­ing any­one else, so I will not do any­thing fur­ther,” U Maung Weik said in an­swer to a ques­tion about whether he too in­tended to take le­gal ac­tion against the ar­ti­cle’s author.

Dur­ing a press con­fer­ence by Eleven Me­dia Group on Novem­ber 8, the CEO said the ar­ti­cle did not run in the pa­per’s news sec­tion and that re­fer­ring to “sto­ries cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia” was within the eth­i­cal bounds of an opin­ion piece, Daily Eleven reported.

“In­stead of pres­sur­ing the me­dia, the govern­ment has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate the cor­rup­tion case since it af­fects the coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion,” U Than Htut Aung was quoted as say­ing.

In re­sponse, U Phyo Min Thein said at his press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day that it was the ac­cuser’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­port any sus­pected graft to the an­ti­cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion.

Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

Yan­gon Chief Min­is­ter U Phyo Min Thein holds a press con­fer­ence at the re­gional govern­ment office yes­ter­day.



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