A lawsuit has been brought against a journalist working for the Modern Weekly news journal in Burma’s second city of Mandalay for a critical report she made on a road deemed to be in poor condition.
Thet Su Aung appeared in court yesterday to faces charges brought by Burma’s Ministry of Construction following the publication of the article in November last year. She wrote that travel along the road linking the Mandalay division towns of Thabeikkyin and Tagaung was difficult due to a lack of maintenance.
The Modern Weekly news journal has also been hit with charges.
The trial points to the lingering dangers journalists face in publishing material considered critical of the government, which has allowed a number of newspapers and journals to bypass censorship.
Htun Win, editor of the Shwe Mandalay news journal, said that a number of other publications also carried a critique of the road, but that only Thet Su Aung was hit with a lawsuit. “Most people who work in the media are not very happy about this,” he said.
The trial conflicts with signs of progress in Burma’s media sphere over the past six months. Blockades on various independent news websites, including the BBC and DVB, have been lifted, while the ministry of information last week agreed to grant visas to exiled journalists working for DVB.
But for domestic reporters the situation remains fragile. A new law has been proposed that would allow a greater degree of freedom for media inside the country, although there are believed to be forces in parliament resistant to the opening up of the country’s press.
Htun Win said that the lawsuit could be considered “a test for the media”, or a remainder that it cannot yet enjoy free reign.