YANGON — Lt. Col Myint Htwe of the Yangon Division Police lodged a complaint with the Myanmar Press Council last week against 7Day Daily, one of Myanmar’s leading independent newspapers, over an article that claimed the lawsuits brought against two Reuters journalists were initiated at the orders of Vice-President U Myint Swe.
A Press Council member leaked copies of the police letter, which was dated Feb. 9, to The Irawaddy on Monday evening. The complaint accuses 7Day news of failing to accurately report the testimony of officer Lt. Col Yu Naing, who is the plaintiff in the case against the two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and for adding a subjective commentary to the conclusion of the article.
According to the police letter, Lt. Col Yu Naing testified that his lawsuit had been approved by Kyaw Kyaw Han, director general of the President’s Office, in accordance with the Official Secrets Act’s Article 3 (1) (C), and that it was approved by Vice-President U Myint Swe. But according to 7Day’s published account, Lt. Col Yu Naing had testified that his complaint had been filed at the behest of Vice President U Myint Swe.
The complaint says the 7Day article provided misleading information to readers as the lawsuit against the two reporters was filed with the backing of the President’s Office rather than being approved personally by Vice President Myint Swe.
The police complaint states that the news report “could harm the reputation of state dignitaries and violate the media law’s Article 9(g) as the piece added the reporter’s opinion.”
As a result, Lt. Col Myint Htwe had filed the complaint with the Myanmar Press Council to demand it take action against 7Day news in accordance with the media law’s Article (21), which states that if any member of the news media violates the law’s ethics standards the aggrieved party may file a complaint with the council.
In the second point, sub-section (c ), of the complaint, it says the police officer testified he had confiscated arson-situation reports on ethnic villages between Aug. 25 and Oct. 13, a copy of population statistics (Maungdaw), two mobile phones, a couple of ATM cards and some cash from the two reporters.
However, the 7Day piece quoted Yu Naing as saying police had seized a copy of an ammunition report (showing how much ammunition was spent during the clearance operation) from reporter Wa Lone and that he found a copy of a population status report for the Maungdaw region, arson-situation reports of villages and an attached file from Kyaw Soe Oo. In fact, the description that appeared in 7Day news was based on a police report that had been passed among journalists in mid-December 2017, a few days after which, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained in police custody in Htauk Kyant.
In response to the police complaint, the Myanmar Journalist Institute (MJI)’s training director, U Sein Win, concluded that the move appears intended to protect the public image of Vice President U Myint Swe, a notorious former military general. He also played down the miss-quoting of the police officer’s testimony, saying it was not a big crime and was an unnecessary matter to bring to court.
He said the military and ruling National League for Democracy government have a negative view of the media and are overly sensitive about reporters, instead of practicing democratic norms and allowing freedom of expression.
“They should understand that arresting and imprisoning journalists will badly harm their reputations,” U Sein Win said.
In an effort to get a response from the 7Day newspaper, The Irrawaddy phoned editor-in-charge Ko Arr Man several times on Monday evening but failed to reach him.
On Monday, PEN America announced that it would award the 2018 PEN/ Barbey Freedom to Write Award to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
This article has been corrected to reflect the actual contents of the Media Law’s Article 21.