Ministry Urges Press Council to Take Action Against Journal

By Yen Saning 13 December 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Information has urged the Interim Press Council to take action against The Sun Rays journal, claiming that the publication was responsible for “unethical” writing and “hate speech.”

The journal, which was established last month, has published scathing stories attacking members of the former military regime and so-called “crony” businessmen that benefitted from their links with the junta.

Late last month, powerful Burmese tycoon Tay Za announced he would sue The Sun Rays on accusations of defamation after it ran a front page story with his photo under the headline “Cronies should jump into the Andaman Sea.”

The Information Ministry sent a letter to the Interim Press Council on Thursday complaining about the publication, asking the council to take steps against The Sun Rays.

“We have found that all writings in all issues of this journal that have been published are unethical, yellow journalism [sic] and contain hate speech,” a copy of the letter published on the ministry’s website said. “All writings by the journal were personal attacks and damaged the current government.”

“Moe Hein, the CEO of this journal, admitted in an interview with a journalist […] that the writing in both Sunlight and The Sun Rays are unethical,” it said. “We want the Press Council to negotiate and handle this case, as needed,” the ministry wrote, without specifying what it wants the council to do.

Moe Hein told The Irrawaddy that he had seen the online letter, but said he could not yet react as his office had not officially been informed of the letter.

He defended his publication against complaints by other Burmese journalists, who have said its opinionated pieces attack individuals without much reporting or evidence.

“We follow standardized journalism ethics and exercise freedom of press like in democratic countries around the world,” Moe Hein said. “We report and write freely like other press in the world. We are not attacking or slandering anyone.”

Moe Hein’s media endeavors also ran into problems in October when he was working as CEO of Sunlight journal. Its offices were allegedly raided by a group backed by the grandson of Burma’s former dictator Sen-Gen Than Shwe and the son of Commerce Minister Win Myint.

Sunlight publisher Yu Naing decided to stop publication, claiming it ran controversial articles without approval of the editorial board. Moe Hein then set up The Sun Rays journal.

Myint Kyaw, a member of the Interim Press Council, said the council would meet this weekend to decide on a response to the letter. He said he felt that The Sun Rays’ journalism standards had been poor, but added that it was unclear what the Information Ministry was trying to achieve by placing responsibility for the journal’s controversial content with the council.

“They [the ministry] have granted a license [to The Sun Rays] after the publisher signed an agreement to follow rules and regulations. They can cancel the license. That’s why I think this is a test to Press Council.

“They might be watching how the Press Council handles this kind of cases and they might one day point out that the Press Council can’t supervise the media,” he said.

The ministry’s letter pointed out that under the publishing license it had issued to The Sun Rays, the journal’s publisher Khin Aye agreed to not publish libelous statements, incite violence or disturb the rule of law. This agreement also stipulated that the journal will practice ethical journalism standards set by the Interim Press Council, the letter added.

Since President Thein Sein’s reformist government took office in 2011, it has relaxed draconian media restrictions that were long in place under military rule, lifting pre-publication censorship and allowing the publication of daily newspapers.

The Information Minister said in its letter that had been “monitoring” Burmese media publications after censorship was lifted, in order to screen it for “unethical” journalism and was sending such cases to the Interim Press Council.