MYANMAR: From Censorship to Courts

ALEXANDRE GUIRAUD-COINTREAU WRITES – Myanmar’s new regime has found new ways to deal with unwanted magazine articles by doling out defamation lawsuits left and right.

Within the last year, the population in Myanmar has seen countless improvements, such as the development of new media sources, as well as the popularization of cellphones. The current government has made a point to distance itself from the oppressive military regime that was in place not long ago. The working conditions of many media companies and journalists have flourished, greatly due to the lack of censorship and press control over communication.

But the new government, through repeated defamation suits, has tried to influence the flow of media information. So far, numerous lawsuits have been withdrawn by prosecuting government organizations. For example,  the Ministry of Mines vs. The Voice Newspaper case was dropped in January 2013, after months of negotiations. Conversely, a new case has emerged, in which Ko Si Thu Lwin, a senior reporter from the Myanmar Times, is being sued for an article he wrote concerning the conflict burdened installation of power lines in Madaya. U Nyan Htun is the Madaya electricity engineer responsible for the lawsuit, as he filed a complaint with the police. The electricity department is following up with the suit, as U Nyan Htun claimed that, “some words damaged the dignity of the electricity department and its staff.”

This decision was deeply criticized by the Myanmar Journalists Association, who decided to defend the reporter and help him win, especially since it seems that there is no sound basis for the case. Though it seems like a new era for Myanmar’s journalists, these suits could mean one of two things. Either government organizations are finding a new way to censor media, or journalists have become trigger-happy with their new freedom and are overstepping their boundaries.

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