Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group published an apology on Wednesday to the Yangon regional government for a report criticizing its business dealings and budget, fulfilling an agreement reached in November in which criminal charges of incitement against three of the news outlet’s staff were dropped.
Eleven Media announced that they are “deeply saddened for the losses of Yangon Region government, if there are any, due to their article” published on October 8 2018 by the Weekly Eleven News Journal.
Chief reporter Phyo Wai Win and top editors Kyaw Zaw Lin and Nari Min were arrested and detained in October on charges of committing offenses against the state for publishing an article with a critical focus on Yangon government spending. The article charged that officials mismanaged public funds through business dealings by the region’s Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein.
The journalists were arrested in October and charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, a vaguely-worded section that prohibits the publication or circulation of any statement, rumor, or report with intent to cause “fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the state or against the public tranquility.”
After President Win Myint issued a directive calling on the Yangon government to cooperate with the Myanmar Press Council (MPC) to try to resolve the complaint under the country’s Media Law before taking it to court, officials withdrew the case and freed the men on 10 million kyats (U.S. $6,300) bail in November.
“We are publishing the announcement as a requirement that resulted from negotiations with the Yangon Region government via the press council. The press council was mediating the case to resolve the problem without legal proceedings. This is the announcement from our side as per the agreement,” said Phyo Wai Win.
Though the journalists welcomed a move by Yangon officials to drop the case, they had maintained that the report is factually correct and that they have no reason to apologize as the chief minister has requested, chief editor Kyaw Zaw Lin told RFA’s Myanmar Service at the time.
It was not immediately clear why Eleven Media changed its stance.
Myint Kyaw, the secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, said the statement is a dignified way to resolve the dispute between two parties.
“They have been negotiating for a while. There were some disagreements on some details in the text. In the past few weeks, the council’s chairman has urged Eleven Media and I think now they are doing their part as to the agreement,” he said.
“I don’t know what the responses from Yangon Region government would be. But I think the dispute will be over,” added Myint Kaw.
RFA contacted a high ranking minister from Yangon region government on Eleven media’s announcement, but she refused to answer over the phone.
Eleven Media’s announcement said the information in the original article was drawn from discussions between Yangon regional parliament members.
The Eleven Media case was one of a series of arrests of peaceful critics of the Myanmar military and the government, including satirical performers, political activists, and journalists, dealing further blows to freedom of expression and press freedom in the developing democracy.
Last week Myanmar released two Reuters reporters serving seven-year jail terms for violating a colonial-era state secrets law, ending a nearly 18-month saga that harmed the international reputation of national leader and former democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Press freedom advocates hailed the release of journalists Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, among more than 6,500 prisoners freed under a presidential amnesty. But they said the two Reuters reporters should never have been arrested to begin with and noted that several journalists are among some 300 others who continue to be unjustly imprisoned in the country.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.