Burma Govt Agency Drops Suit Against Magazine

By Yadana Htun 1 February 2013

RANGOON — A court in Burma on Thursday formally closed a defamation lawsuit that a government agency filed against a magazine after the two sides reached a settlement.

The Dagon Township Court in Rangoon announced that the Mining Ministry had agreed to withdraw its lawsuit against The Voice weekly magazine. The suit was filed last May after the magazine published a story about misappropriation and irregularities in four ministries’ financial accounts. The article cited a report from the auditor general’s office to the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

The case was one of the first of its kind under elected President Thein Sein’s government, which has eased restrictions on the media as part of its reforms after almost five decades of repressive military rule. Under previous military regimes, strict media censorship determined what could be printed and violators faced arbitrary punishment and severe penalties.

The Voice on Jan. 14 published an announcement expressing regret that its story could have affected the ministry’s dignity and thanking it for dropping its lawsuit. The magazine did not retract the story.

The magazine’s editor, Kyaw Min Swe, said the settlement was reached with the help of the Press Council.

Burma announced the end of censorship in August.

An interim Press Council was set up last September to help resolve media disputes and to draw up a new media law, with Kyaw Min Swe as its general secretary.

Asked about the settlement, he said: “The result is satisfactory, as I believe that it’s win-win situation. We didn’t publish false news—we reported official information. So, there’s no reason for us to step back. When the country is on the track to becoming a democratic country, it’s not good that the government and media have conflicts. If the Press Council had not gotten involved, one side would win and one side will lose. Then the conflicts between the media and government would get bigger.”

All three of the country’s daily newspapers are state-owned, though it has been announced recently that applications will be accepted to set up new privately owned newspapers.

The court’s action came the same day that two of the state-run dailies published an apology for running a photo that purportedly showed the result of an attack by ethnic Kachin rebels in the country’s north.

The photo—pirated from the private Myanmar Times weekly—actually showed a motorcycle that was damaged in an airplane accident in Shan state on Dec. 25.

Government forces are battling Kachin rebels in northern Burma. The apology in the two Burmese-language dailies said mistakes such as the misidentified photo could weaken public trust. The third state-owned daily, the English-language New Light of Myanmar, also carried the falsely identified photo but did not apologize Thursday.

The same issue of the papers carrying the mislabeled photo also published a statement from the Defense Ministry accusing some media of distorting the facts about the fighting and failing to report atrocities committed by the rebels.

The state-run newspapers are filled with mundane government news, and have long had little popular appeal.