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