NLD crushes media group into apology 

The Daily Eleven is seen as one of Myanmar’s few independent sources. Source: Asean Economist

Myanmar’s Eleven Media Group has issued a public apology for accusing Yangon’s Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein of accepting an expensive watch from a shady tycoon. 

The Daily Eleven last month published an editorial by its CEO Dr Than Htut Aung insinuating that the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader in Yangon had been given a US$100,000 Patek Philippe watch by a property developer who had secured a lucrative urban construction project.

Phyo Min Thein called a press conference to claim that his wife had bought the watch in question, which he said was a far cheaper Rolex, and that he would take legal action against the EMG.

The regional government sued Than Htut Aung and his chief editor Wai Phyo under the Telecommunication Law’s controversial Section 66(d). The pair have been held since November 11 in the notorious Insein Prison.

Anyone can sue anyone else under the section for alleged online abuse, regardless of whether they were the subject of the remarks. It carries a threat of up to three years in prison and suspects are normally refused bail, which is deeply controversial for alleged defamation, meaning it is often used to jail journalists and political activists during prolonged trials.

A final appeal for bail was denied on December 22, despite the CEO suffering from a heart attack and a heavy fall while in prison. The prison medic who treated him reportedly failed to attend the bail hearing so both journalists remain in jail.

The EMG’s letter “sincere apologies” for the article, partly blaming Singapore’s Straits Times for republishing it with the headline  “Myanmar, one year after the Nov 8 polls” alongside a picture of NLD boss Aung San Suu Kyi, which the EMG said was “likely to cause misinterpretation”.

The incarceration of two journalists for allegedly defaming a Suu Kyi ally does raise questions about her commitment to democracy and the legal system, which is still largely in the grasp of the military.

The apology said “some points mentioned in the editorial were wrong and groundless accusations”.

It expressed “sincere apologies to the Yangon Region Chief Minister and the government for damage caused by the article written based on inaccurate and groundless information. We make a solemn promise that we would not do such as act [sic] next time.”

The EMG has become increasingly critical of the NLD since it came to power although it has assiduously followed the government’s line in Rakhine State, where it is internationally condemned for its treatment of the Rohingya minority.

Earlier this month, an EMG Sagaing Region correspondent, Soe Moe Tun, was beaten to death. Early reports suggest he had offended karaoke bar owners.

The reporter’s belongings, including his motorbike, mobile phones, a ring and some money were found at the scene, making robbery an unlikely motive.