The Eleven Media Group has issued a public apology for accusing Rangoon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein of graft.
One of Burma’s most popular news sources, and also renowned as one of the most outspoken, the group’s Daily Eleven newspaper and Eleven Media website last month published an editorial by its CEO Than Htut Aung, insinuating that an unnamed regional chief minister had been gifted a US$100,000 Patek Philippe wristwatch as a backhander by a property developer who had won tender for a lucrative urban construction project.
Acknowledging that the target of the allegation was himself, Phyo Min Thein subsequently called a press conference where he denied receiving such a present, claiming that his wife had bought the watch in question, which he said was a far cheaper Rolex.
The Rangoon regional government then filed a lawsuit against Than Htut Aung and Eleven Media’s chief editor Wai Phyo, suing them for “online defamation” under Telecommunication Law Article 66 (d). The pair were summoned for questioning, and taken into custody on 11 November pending a trial.
A final appeal for bail was denied on 22 December.
Today, 27 December, the Eleven Media Group published a letter expressing “sincere apologies” for the article, though it also pointed a finger at The Straits Times of Singapore for republishing it alongside a photograph of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi — an editorial decision, it said, that was “likely to cause misinterpretation”.
In its letter of apology, Eleven Media Group admitted that “some points mentioned in the editorial were wrong and groundless accusations regarding the Yangon [Rangoon] Region Chief Minister and the Yangon Region Government.”
It concluded: “The CEO and those responsible from Eleven Media Group would like to express their 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.”
Apart from thinly veiled allegations aimed at the Rangoon chief minister, Than Htut Aung vented much ire in his editorial at the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), which he blamed for inflaming tensions with various ethnic armed groups in the country, and for failing to resurrect the economy.
In July 2015, Than Htut Aung was attacked by assailants using slingshots and metal nuts as he drove home from work in central Rangoon. It is still unknown who attacked him or why.
And just two weeks ago, in another seemingly unrelated but troubling incident, a Monywa-based correspondent for Eleven Media, Soe Moe Tun, was found murdered in the early hours of 13 December.
The deceased’s belongings, including his motorbike, two mobile phones, a ring and some money were found at the scene, making robbery an unlikely motive for the killing.
In a subsequent statement, the Myanmar Journalist Network urged media organisations to consider arrangements to protect their reporters, while also warning journalists to take precautions to ensure their own safety.