President's Office Presses Yangon Govt to Drop Incitement Suit

By The Irrawaddy 30 October 2018

YANGON — The Yangon Region government must follow a presidential directive telling it to adhere to the Media Law in its dispute with three journalists from the Eleven Media Group, a spokesman for the President’s Office said.

The Yangon government filed a lawsuit against the trio earlier this month accusing them of incitement under Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code for allegedly publishing false information relating to the use of public funds. They were arrested on Oct. 10 and detained at Yangon’s Insein Prison but released on bail last week.

The lawsuit and arrests drew strong public rebuke from critics who pointed out that the offending article was based primarily on remarks by lawmakers in a Yangon Parliament session about a recent report by the local auditor general. The lawmakers themselves insisted the story was accurate.

The lawsuit prompted President U Win Myint to tell the Yangon government to follow the Media Law, which says the Myanmar Press Council should attempt to settle complaints against the press before they reach the courts. The Yangon government submitted a complaint letter to the Press Council following the president’s directive on Oct. 18.

The Press Council then urged the Yangon government to withdraw the lawsuit because its rules forbid it from mediating a dispute that is with the courts.

But the government has yet to drop the suit.

“We have sent it the [president’s] directive. The [Yangon] chief ministers shall be responsible to the president, according to the Constitution, so it has to follow the order; I hope it will. As far as I’m concerned, it is now negotiating with Eleven Media Group,” U Zaw Htay, spokesman for the President Office, said Monday at a press conference in Naypyitaw.

On Oct. 19 the Yangon government demanded that Eleven Media apologize for the article without saying whether it would drop the suit if the news outlet complied.

It is not clear if the two sides are negotiating on an apology. Eleven Media Managing Director U Thein Myint was not available for comments on Tuesday.

Upon his release on Friday, U Phyo Wai Win, the journalist who wrote the offending article, told reporters outside the court that he stood by everything he wrote.

On the day of their release, Press Council Vice Chairman U Myo Thant Tin told The Irrawaddy that, despite the bail, the suit still had to be dropped before it could start mediating. The journalists’ lawyer, U Kyee Myint, urged the government to follow the president’s instructions and drop the suit without delay.