Yangon Gov’t Demands Apology from Eleven Media

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 22 October 2018

YANGON—The Yangon regional government has demanded that Eleven Media Group publish an apology in state-run newspapers for an “incorrect” story about the city’s budget that prompted authorities to file a lawsuit. The move fails to fully comply with instructions issued by the President’s Office last week that the city government should submit the dispute to the Press Council for mediation.

The Yangon government filed a suit against two editors and a reporter from Eleven Media Group 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. The three were arrested on Oct. 10 and detained at Yangon’s Insein Prison.

City authorities’ harsh treatment of the media organization attracted public criticism, as the story was primarily based on lawmakers’ discussion in the regional parliament of the auditor general’s report on the government budget. The lawmakers themselves insisted the story was accurate.

Responding to the public outcry, President U Win Myint last week ordered 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. Following the order, the Yangon government submitted a complaint letter to the Press Council last week.

The Council on Friday urged the Yangon government to withdraw its lawsuit against the three journalists so that it could begin mediation. The council cannot legally intervene in cases that have already been brought before the court.

But on the evening of the same day, rather than drop the case, the city government asked the Press Council to require that Eleven Media publish an apology in government newspapers.

“Prior to publication, the contents of the apology must be approved by the Yangon government,” the city government demanded in a letter signed by U Aung Kyaw Khiang, the director of the Yangon Government Office.

It was not immediately clear whether the Yangon government would agree to withdraw the case if the apology was forthcoming. U Aung Kyaw Khaing wasn’t available for comment on Monday.

Press Council member U Myint Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the council cannot begin any mediation—even at the government’s request—until the court case is dropped.

“I think they are playing an unfair game. Trying to settle the case while keeping the journalists behind bars is sort of taking the upper hand,” he said.

At noon on Monday, Eleven Media managing director U Thein Myint told The Irrawaddy he had yet to hear anything more about either the withdrawal of the case or the demand for an apology.

Speaking to the media after a meeting with the Press Council on Friday, he said the journalists would have the final say in the apology.

“It’s up to them whether to apologize or not,” he said.

Lawmaker U Nay Phone Latt said the government’s demand contradicted the president’s order to attempt to settle the case with the help of the Press Council.

“To do so, the case has to be dropped first. Now they are demanding an apology rather than withdrawing the case. It’s not in line with the presidential directive,” he said.

The lawsuit is not the first that the Yangon government has filed against Eleven Media.

In 2016, the company’s CEO U Than Htut Aung and editor-in-Chief U Wai Phyo were sued for libel by Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein over an editorial accusing him of corruption. Eleven Media Group later issued an official apology and retracted the editorial that prompted the libel case.

The apology was printed in state-run newspapers in both Burmese and English.