Friday, July 1, 2016

Local columnist sued by Eleven Media

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By Sean Gleeson | Frontier Myanmar

Journalist U Sithu Aung Myint has once again raised the ire of the Eleven Media Group and may face defamation proceedings under the Electronic Transactions Law, the tenth time the company has attempted to pursue charges against the prominent commentator.

Sithu Aung Myint - a regular columnist for Frontier and several other Yangon-based media outlets - has been named in a charge filed at the Pazundaung Township police station in relation a recent column published in former exile media outlet Mizzima.

According to a press release issued on June 22 by Mizzima, the column contained a rebuttal to alleged misreporting of the activities of the now-defunct Myanmar Peace Centre, an organisation established by the previous government to assist in negotiations with the country's myriad non-state armed groups.

The column contained no explicit reference to either individual journalists or media companies.

Mizzima managing director U Soe Myint and editor U Myo Thant were also named in the complaint, which was filed by EMG chief reporter U Marn Thu Shein.

"This is not the only time Eleven sued me: I am facing four lawsuits, three in Pazundaung and one in Botahtaung Township," Sithu Aung Myint told Frontier on June 23. "I have never run or hidden from these cases, I am facing them and seeking solutions all the time."

Sithu Aung Myint faces a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment under Section 34(d) of the Electronic Transaction of information "detrimental to the interests" or harmful to the dignity of an individual or organisation.

Mizzima's press release said that any complaint about the column should have firs been addressed through the adjudication functions of the Myanmar Press Council.

Eleven Media Group withdrew from the interim press council before the body was formally constituted last year, claiming that the previous government's decision to fund it to the tune of K50 million (US$42,400) left the body insufficiently independent from the government.

In 2013, Marn Thu Shein filed a complaint against Sithu Aung Myint and the Yangon Times. His complaint alleged that an article that suggested an unnamed media outlet was intent on attacking the government "like a dog on someone's leg" was a clear reference to his published criticisms of the size of Myanmar's foreign currency reserves.

According to the Myanmar Times, the complaint was dismissed by the Bahan Township Court, with the decision upheld by the Western District Court in March 2014.

Discussing previous legal action against the columnist, Eleven Media's online editor Nay Htun Naing told Frontier in March that his company was justified in pursuing defamation charges rather than retaliating in the pages of its own newspaper.

"When we filed the lawsuits, it's not because of his criticism," he said. "It's only because of the wrongful information that has been written about us. Because we don't really want to discuss these matters publicly, we file them in the court so it can be resolved peacefully and more discreetly."

Sann Oo contributed to this report.

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