Amyotha Hluttaw speaker drawn into Eleven Media dispute

NAY PYI TAW — Myanmar’s Upper House speaker has been drawn into the long-running, labyrinthine dispute between the Eleven Media Group and U Hla Swe, after refusing to apologise for failing to personally censure the firebrand lawmaker. 

Eleven’s chief editor, U Wai Phyo, sent a letter to Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker U Khin Aung Myint last July, telling him to warn Hla Swe to tone down his critical comments of Eleven CEO Dr Than Htut Aung on social media.

Hla Swe had alleged that Than Htut Aung was responsible for illegal logging in Magwe’s Gangaw Township, part of the constituency the outgoing lawmaker represented until his defeat at the November 8 election. The Eleven CEO retaliated by launching defamation proceedings against Hla Swe in August.

U Wai Phyo’s July 17 letter told Khin Aung Myint that Hla Swe’s allegations had “adversely affected the dignity” of Eleven Media and asked him to warn the lawmaker against any future comments on the matter.

Khin Aung Myint is now in the firing line after the Myanmar Herald journal published an interview with the Eleven chief on Saturday, in particular the Amyotha Hluttaw speaker’s refusal to furnish the letter for the ongoing defamation case.

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“We received a letter last July from Wai Phyo, chief editor of Eleven Media Group, requesting me to give a warning to U Hla Swe,” Khin Aung Myint told media in Nay Pyi Taw after the interview was published.

“The letter was referred to the Hluttaw Administrative Committee with my order. Although the letter was not signed by Dr. Than Htut Aung, he must have known about the letter…and it is clear he is responsible for the letter. Since I’m also a citizen of Myanmar, I only have to provide this letter to the court if I am summoned. As for me, I don’t have to apologise.”

The speaker’s comments appear to have further aggravated the Eleven camp, with Than Htut Aung’s lawyer taking to the pages of Sunday’s Daily Eleven newspaper to deny that the CEO had any involvement making representations to Khin Aung Myint about Hla Swe.

The lawyer reiterated demands for the speaker to apologise and explain his comments within a week. A similar ultimatum was made to Hla Swe before Eleven filed its defamation suit last year.

Than Htut Aung and Eleven Media have become increasingly combative in his attacks on government officials in recent years.

Eleven published an article in June 2014 alleging the Ministry of Information had engaged in corrupt conduct by paying an inflated price for a printing press used in the ministry’s News and Periodicals Enterprise, which publishes Myanmar’s state-run newspapers.

After mediation failed at the Interim Myanmar Press Council, the ministry filed a defamation complaint against the publication. In June 2015 individual staff members of Eleven Media Group, including the publisher of the company’s daily Myanmar language paper, were hit with an additional defamation complaint for their coverage of the additional dispute.

On July 14 last year, three days before Wai Phyo’s letter to the Amyotha speaker, Than Htut Aung’s car was attacked by several men wielding slingshots while stopped at an intersection in Yangon’s Bahan Township. Eleven Media and its CEO, who was not injured in the attack, has consistently characterised the incident as an “assassination attempt” while hinting at government involvement.

The day after the attack, photos began circulating on social media purporting to show Than Htut Aung at a KTV club, along with suggestions that the incident in Bahan was the result of a private business dispute. Eleven’s managing director Dr Thein Myint claimed that the allegations were part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit the CEO.

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