Driving Miss Suu Kyi? Try Again, CNN

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 10 March 2016

RANGOON — The presidential nominees of the National League for Democracy (NLD) were put forward on Thursday, prompting a flurry of media attention for two men who are, perhaps most notably, not party leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

As reporters scrambled to provide details on their past lives and present standing, the absence of an immediate official party release on the men was no doubt a factor in the publication of false information by several media organizations, including “international standard” outlets like CNN, which began its flawed coverage of the candidates by running a picture of the wrong man with its story on Htin Kyaw, the NLD’s presumptive presidential pick.

In the photo of the original CNN story published after the nominations were announced on Thursday, the gray-haired and bespectacled Htin Kyaw, who had been publicly tipped as “the future president of Burma,” was nowhere to be seen. Instead, another younger Htin Kyaw, who is now in prison for his human rights activism, was pictured amid a throng of his supporters.

The picture went viral on social media, earning comments like: “I’m disappointed with some international news agencies for their sloppiness and eagerness to ‘post-it—fast,’ which leads them to mistake two people with the same name.”

Apart from the picture, there was the headline: “Former driver Htin Kyaw likely to become Myanmar’s next leader,” which also attracted criticism, but in this CNN was not alone. The Agence France-Presse newswire was among outlets going with a similar “driver” angle in their headlines.

But Myint Soe, Suu Kyi’s chef from 2004 to 2010 and an NLD member who for years spent most of his time with Suu Kyi inside her lakeside villa, said Htin Kyaw had never been Suu Kyi’s official driver.

“U Htin Kyaw at times volunteered to ‘drive’ her car when a driver was not available in the past. But it does not make him a ‘driver’ of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.

Both headlines were later changed, with the second incarnation of the CNN banner reading: “Aung San Suu Kyi confidante Htin Kyaw likely to become Myanmar’s next leader.”

But still the report fell short of the truth.

CNN also incorrectly identified Htin Kyaw as a “cofounder” of the NLD, when it was in fact his father-in-law, U Lwin, who was one of the founders of the NLD when it was formed in 1988.

Another updated version transformed Htin Kyaw from “cofounder” to “long-time NLD member.” In fact, whether Htin Kyaw is currently or has ever been a party member remains an open question even among some on the NLD central executive committee.

His education background was incorrectly identified by CNN as including study at Oxford, an error that, in the interests of fairness and full disclosure, might be attributed to The Irrawaddy’s own failure to get it right in a short profile on Htin Kyaw published earlier this week. In fact, he studied computer science at the University of London.

But if it was media outlets that struggled to keep the facts straight, it was the party that thrust Htin Kyaw into the spotlight on Thursday that did itself no favors in ensuring the truth was communicated to a public that has long awaited word on its presidential pick: It was a full six hours before the party released his biography.

Even then, with that information released only in the Burmese language as of time of publication for this article at 6:40 pm, international readers might still be forgiven for wondering: Who is Htin Kyaw?