Press Council to Negotiate in Media Lawsuits

By Tha Lun Zaung Htet 10 January 2013

RANGOON—The new Myanmar Press Council is to mediate between the government and two journals, The Voice and Snapshot Journal, for the withdrawal of government lawsuits against the publications. The Ministry of Mining and the Rangoon Division government lodged formal complaints against the journals last year.

Khin Maung Aye, chairman of Myanmar Press Council, said the council was responding to the requests of the two member media organizations to help resolve the complaints by the government bodies.

“They asked for help. The Press Council made a request to the government. Whether lawsuits will be withdrawn or not is up to the authorities. We are trying to negotiate,” said Khin Maung Aye.

The Voice Weekly had quoted a report from the auditor general’s office to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last year that found that several ministries, including the Mining Ministry, had been involved in misuse of state funds illegal transactions.

After the allegations were reported it was sued by Mining Ministry at Rangoon’s Dagon Township Court.

Snapshot journal published a photo of the body of an ethnic Arakanese girl—with face blurred out—who was raped and murdered by three Muslim men. The photo came out in 2012 as violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities erupted in Arakan State.

The Rangoon Division government subsequently laid criminal charges against the Snapshot journal for publishing material that could provoke acts of public mischief.

So far, the Ministry of Mining has started negotiations with The Voice, but Snapshot has not been contacted by Rangoon Division and the Press Council is now trying to set up negotiations.

Thiha Saw, a journalist and member of Press Council, said that if mediation attempts by the Press Council were successful it would confirm to Burma’s media that it could offer a degree of protection and representation of media rights.

“The Press Council is doing many things for media freedom. Negotiation for publications is one of our tasks. If negotiation is successful, the Press Council will get trust and respect from journalists,” he said.

The new 27-member Press Council, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Khin Maung Aye, was formed on Sept. 17 last year in Rangoon following two weeks of discussions between journalists’ groups and the Ministry of Information. About two-thirds of the council’s members are journalists.

Burmese media have only recently begun to enjoy increased media freedoms as censorship was lifted early last year. President Thein Sein’s reformist government replaced the previous Minister of Information with a more progressive successor.

In April, daily newspapers will be allowed in Burma for the first time in decades. Yet questions remain over how much freedom the Burmese media will gain in the long term.