YANGON — The Myanmar Press Council on Friday advised the Yangon Region government to withdraw incitement charges against three journalists from Eleven Media Group, after President U Win Myint directed the regional government on October 17 to follow the News Media Law and attempt to resolve the case through arbitration.
Yangon government director U Aung Kyaw Khine filed charges on October 9 under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code over an article critical of the regional government’s business ventures.
On October 17, as the detained journalists appeared in Tarmwe Township Court for their second pre-trial hearing, U Zaw Thin, permanent secretary of the Union government wrote to Yangon Region government officials on behalf of President U Win Myint, instructing them to abide by the News Media Law and cooperate with the MPC in resolving the case.
Complaints against journalists should be filed first with the MPC and escalated only if negotiations with the council fail, Zaw Thin said in the letter, which was widely circulated on Facebook. The letter said the instructions were a response to a Yangon Region government report to the Union governmnet on its activities. It is not clear if this was a regular report, or whether it related specifically to the case.
President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told reporters yesterday that the Union government had consulted Win Myint before issuing a directive to the regional government. “The Yangon Region government has been given directions mainly relating to the [reporters’] prosecution,” he said.
Aung Kyaw Khine wrote to the MPC on October 18 requesting a meeting, in a letter seen by Frontier which said that Weekly Eleven News Journal senior editor Ko Phyo Wai Win, editor-in-chief Ko Kyaw Zaw Linn and editor-in-charge Ko Nayi Min had violated sub-sections (a), (e), (g) and (i) of Section 9 of the News Media Law on journalistic codes of conduct.
The offending article, written by Phyo Wai Win and entitled “Closing loss-making gas stations, school buses bought with money borrowed from anonymous lender, and public shares under individual names” criticized business ventures initiated by Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, including a public-private company called Yangon Metropolitan Development Public.
“Despite the company being established according to corporate regulations, the largest shareholder is a government minister and lawmakers have pointed out this could lead to complications,” the article said. The lawsuit claimed it had “frightened shareholders and damaged public trust in the company”.
The meeting requested by Aung Kyaw Khine was held at 11.30am on Friday, at which members of the MPC advised him to drop the lawsuit, so that the council can legally proceed with negotiations, according to a statement posted on the MPC Facebook page.
U Myint Kyaw of the MPC told Frontier the council was unable to get involved until the case is withdrawn from Tarmwe Township Court. “To the best of our knowledge, the case has not yet been withdrawn. The negotiations now being conducted are informal,” he said.
The MPC held a separate meeting on Friday with Eleven Media Group’s managing director Dr Thein Myint and editor-in-chief Ko Wai Phyo, but did not publish details of what was said.
On October 10, the day after the lawsuit was filed, the MPC issued a statement condemning what it said was the Yangon Government’s misuse of Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which carries up to two years’ imprisonment for the publication or circulation of any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause “fear or alarm to the public”.
“Prosecuting journalists without using the News Media Law enacted by the Union parliament damaged not only the democratic image of the country but also the dignity of Yangon Region,” the statement said, and called on the Yangon government to instead file a complaint with the council.