Three journalists from Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group have refused to apologize to the Yangon regional government for a report criticizing its business dealings and budget, and they stand behind the reporting that prompted criminal charges of incitement against them, said the news outlet’s editor-in-chief on Tuesday.
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.
Though the journalists welcomed a move by Yangon officials to drop the case in November, the journalists maintain 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.
RFA was unable to reach plaintiff Aung Kyaw Khine, director of the Yangon regional government who had filed the court case, for comment. He previously said that the article published in the Weekly Eleven News Journal on Oct. 8 damaged the dignity of the Yangon government.
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.
Yangon officials said they would submit the dispute to the MPC, though Phyo Min Thien pledged to continue with the legal case if the journalists refused to satisfy his demand for an apology after the negotiations.
Lack of transparency
In the meantime, the journalists have met with the MPC three times to explain why they wrote and published the article, Kyaw Zaw Lin said.
The Yangon regional government has said that information the journalists used in the report was incorrect and has asked them to apologize for it, he said.
“We told them that the facts we used in the article were included in quotes from regional lawmakers based on the auditor general’s report,” Kyaw Zaw Lin said.
“We told them that we can find a solution though discussions with the Yangon regional government, the Myanmar Press Council, parliament, and the auditor general,” he said.
Hla Htay, a lawmaker in the Yangon regional parliament, said the case against the journalists occurred because of a lack of transparency concerning company investments.
“If the government officially released the rules and regulations for company investments, it would be clear” whether the regional government had mismanaged funds as the report indicates, he told RFA.
Regional lawmakers have discussed the issue in parliament, but no one from the Yangon government has responded or offered an explanation, he said.
Meanwhile, MPC chairman Ohn Kyaing said that council members are waiting to be invited to the Yangon regional government’s office again to mediate between both sides.
Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.