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