Press Coun­cil wades into me­dia defama­tion case

The vice chair of the Myan­mar Press Coun­cil said he would try to per­suade the Yan­gon Re­gion govern­ment to with­draw charges against the CEO and chief editor of Eleven Me­dia.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - Yeemon­tun@mm­times.com YE MON

IN an ef­fort to get the CEO and chief editor of Eleven Me­dia Group out of In­sein Prison, Myan­mar Press Coun­cil of­fi­cials say they will try to per­suade Yan­gon Re­gion’s chief min­is­ter to with­draw his defama­tion suit against the two men.

Eleven’s manag­ing di­rec­tor U Thein Myint wrote to the coun­cil on Novem­ber 12 ask­ing the of­fi­cial press over­sight body to in­ter­vene.

U Aung Hla Tun, vice chair of the press coun­cil, told The Myan­mar Times yes­ter­day that the coun­cil would dis­cuss U Thein Myint’s let­ter and do what they could to in­ter­vene.

“The only way we can help is by ask­ing the chief min­is­ter to with­draw his law­suit. We will try to meet with him and his cabi­net in the com­ing week,” he said.

Last week, the Yan­gon Re­gion govern­ment filed suit for defama­tion against Eleven Me­dia Group un­der sec­tion 66(d) of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law con­cern­ing an ar­ti­cle pub­lished ear­lier this month un­der CEO U Than Htut Aung’s by-line.

The story ap­peared to sug­gest a link be­tween a time­piece worn by an un­named chief min­is­ter who, the pa­per said, was “seen wear­ing a US$100,000 Patek Philippe watch”, and the grant­ing of a ten­der for Yan­gon’s “new city” ex­pan­sion project. The ar­ti­cle ac­cused the new govern­ment of fail­ing to live up to its prom­ise of stem­ming cor­rup­tion. Both busi­ness­man U Maung Weik and Chief Min­is­ter U Phyo Min Thein called press con­fer­ences to deny the al­le­ga­tions in the ar­ti­cle, though nei­ther were di­rectly named.

Police launched a man­hunt for U Than Htut Aung and chief editor U Wai Phyo af­ter they failed to present them­selves at Tarmwe Town­ship Police Sta­tion on Novem­ber 10. The two later handed them­selves in.

The of­fend­ing story was pub­lished by the Asia News Net­work (ANN) and car­ried on the web­site of the Sin­ga­pore-based Straits Times news­pa­per on Novem­ber 5.

ANN urged the Myan­mar govern­ment on Novem­ber 12 to im­me­di­ately re­lease Eleven’s CEO and chief editor, say­ing the govern­ment had a duty to en­sure that the law was not used to sti­fle com­ment or to curb free­dom of the press.

“Such de­ten­tions would only in­tim­i­date the me­dia and im­pede the demo­cratic pro­cesses that [Na­tional League for Democ­racy] party leader and de facto head of govern­ment Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party had fought long and hard for,” said the ANN state­ment.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has also called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of the two jour­nal­ists, crit­i­cis­ing the use of a re­pres­sive law against peace­ful crit­i­cism of govern­ment of­fi­cials.

“Ar­rest­ing and de­tain­ing th­ese two men raises se­ri­ous con­cerns about the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to free­dom of ex­pres­sion,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty’s re­gional di­rec­tor for South­east Asia and the Pa­cific.

The For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents Club of Myan­mar also is­sued a state­ment of con­cern adding that “ar­rest­ing and charg­ing of jour­nal­ists is an at­tempt to in­tim­i­date the me­dia from do­ing its job and set[s] an alarm­ing prece­dent for me­dia free­dom”.

The NLD-led govern­ment has on sev­eral in­stances flexed mus­cles to cur­tail crit­ics and crack down on the me­dia. An NLD mem­ber in Septem­ber filed a defama­tion case against a man who called Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw “crazy” on so­cial me­dia. He was sen­tenced to nine months in prison.

A pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing in the case is sched­uled for Novem­ber 25 at Tarmwe Town­ship Court.

Chief editor U Wai Phyo told the me­dia on Novem­ber 11 out­side the court that sec­tion 66(d) of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law was un­fair, and said ev­ery cit­i­zen should re­ceive equal rights un­der the law.

“We will fight for the truth and we will back Eleven for speak­ing the truth,” he said.

The Eleven Me­dia Group has it­self launched at least three cases un­der sec­tion 66(d) of the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Law. It is su­ing film di­rec­tor Mite Tee, anaes­the­si­ol­o­gist Naing Htoo Aung and the on­line user “Myat Maw”, ac­cus­ing them of launch­ing per­sonal at­tacks against the Eleven Me­dia Group and its CEO. None of the three have been ar­rested.

Photo: Naing Linn Soe

U Than Htut Aung, CEO of Eleven Me­dia Group, ar­rives at Tarmwe Town­ship Court on Novem­ber 11.

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