Myanmar Government Seeks Action Against 'Unethical' Journal

2013-12-13
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A man sells newspapers in Yangon on April 1, 2013, when private dailies hit Myanmar's newsstands for the first time in decades.
A man sells newspapers in Yangon on April 1, 2013, when private dailies hit Myanmar's newsstands for the first time in decades.
AFP

The Myanmar government has asked a local media umbrella group to take action against a new weekly newspaper Thuriya Naywon (The Sun Rays), saying it is violating journalistic ethics by conducting personal attacks and carrying reports that unfairly target the government.

The Ministry of Information said on Thursday that it had sent a letter to the Interim Myanmar Press Council complaining of the one-month old journal's reports and seeking action against it.

“We have found that all writings in all issues of this journal that have been published are unethical, [reflecting] yellow journalism and contain hate speech,” a copy of the letter published on the ministry’s website said. “All writings by the journal were personal attacks and damaged the current government.”

“We want the Press Council to negotiate and handle this case, as needed,” the ministry said, without saying what specific action the council should take against the journal.

But the council, which was set up in response to pressure to consult journalists on new press laws, said it has no authority to take action against anyone in the media.

The Sun Rays has been attacking officials of the previous military junta regime and “crony” businessmen who allegedly reaped benefits due to their links with the regime.

Last month, local tycoon Tay Za threatened to sue The Sun Rays for defamation after it ran a front page story with his photo under the headline “Cronies should jump into the Andaman Sea.”

Facing the law

Sun Rays chief editor Moe Hein said the journal spoke the "truth" and would not change its editorial policy, which he said was based on "striving for peace, removing 'cronies' with the help of the public, ending military domination, and bringing about a 'people's government' in the 2015 elections."

"If we are sued, we will face it according to the law," he told RFA's Myanmar Service. "We are not concerned about our circulation because our objective is not to seek a bigger market."

"It is our duty to write the truth for the people as long as our journal continues to operate."

Moe Hein said he has not received any written notice from the Ministry of Information or from the Myanmar Press Council, refusing to comment on specific reports that the journal had published.

"If I say something on this matter now, we might have bigger problems between our journal and the Ministry of Information or between our journal and MPC. So I am not say anything now."

Kyaw Min Swe, Secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, said the panel has not discussed the ministry's letter, saying "it's early to say what we are going to do on this matter."

Asked to comment on the journal's reports, he said, it depended on "people’s perspectives."

He said that there are certain ethics that need to be adhered to by the media and that any problems that arise should be resolved in accordance with the law.

He stressed that the council is not responsible for taking action against anyone.

"MPC is not an organization that can take action on someone. It works for the media's development and protects media's interest and rights," he told RFA.

Office not informed

Moe Hein told The Irrawaddy online journal that he had seen the ministry's online letter, but that his office had not officially been informed of the letter.

He defended his publication against complaints by other Burmese journalists, who have said its opinionated pieces attack individuals without much reporting or evidence, the Irrawaddy said.

Moe Hein also ran into problems in October when he was working at another newspaper, the Sunlight journal, Irrawaddy reported. Its offices were allegedly raided by a group backed by the grandson of Myanmar’s former junta chief Than Shwe and the son of Commerce Minister Win Myint, the Irrawaddy said.

Sunlight publisher Yu Naing had decided to stop publication, claiming it ran controversial articles without approval of the editorial board. Moe Hein then set up The Sun Rays journal.

Reformist President Thein Sein has relaxed draconian media restrictions after taking power in March 2011, including lifting pre-publication censorship.

The Information Ministry said it has been “monitoring” media publications after censorship was lifted in order to identify cases of  “unethical” journalism and would send any such cases to the Myanmar Press Council.

Reported by Kyaw Thu and Yadanar Oo for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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