Mizzima Media Group is deeply concerned about the arrest and charging of Dr Than Htut Aung, CEO of the Eleven Media Group, and Wai Phyo, chief editor of Eleven Media Group, this week under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.
The two journalists have been charged under section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications law by the Yangon Regional Government for posting on Facebook that “a chief minister” has accepted a US$100,000 watch from a person recently released from prison having served time on drug charges.
The use of this section of the law poses a severe restriction on freedom of expression. It is drafted very broadly and in vague terms, whereas restrictions on freedom of expression, to be legitimate, should be written in clear and narrow terms.
The arrest and charging of these journalists is viewed as an attempt to intimidate the media and prevent them from doing their job. This is not the atmosphere of media freedom that should be expected under Myanmar’s new democratically-elected civilian government.
There is a mechanism to deal with cases of this nature by using the Myanmar Press Council. Complainants can bring a case to the Council and offer censure of a media organization if it has intentionally or inadvertently published material that is considered libelous or defamatory. In Indonesia, for example, cases involving the press are required to go first to the press council and only after that, if the case is not fully resolved, might they go to the courts.
Mizzima is committed to media freedom and is concerned about laws whose use can severely limit freedom of the press. At a media conference this week, a Myanmar government minister reiterated their commitment to freedom of the press.
Ironically, Mizzima is currently facing such a case, which has been brought against it by Eleven Media Group Chief Reporter Marn Thu Shein.
British NGO Article 19, which campaigns for freedom of expression, has called on Myanmar prosecutors to drop the criminal case brought against Mizzima Media by Marn Thu Shein. The latter filed a criminal complaint under the Electronic Transactions Law over a column by Sithu Aung Myint which had been published in Mizzima’s online edition.
This case is still in the courts.
Article 19 said in a statement: “According to international law, allegations of defamation should be treated as a civil matter between two individuals who have the right to sue one another in a civil court. Treating defamation as a criminal matter in which the State gets involved, as in this case, under the Electronic Transactions Law (ETL), is disproportionate in a democracy.” Mizzima believes the same principles should apply in the current case against Dr Than Htut Aung and Wai Phyo.