Press freedom in Hong Kong

Defamation case against Myanmar weekly dropped

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 3:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 3:43pm

A defamation case by Myanmar’s mining ministry against The Voice Weekly for reporting allegations of graft was dropped on Thursday, in the latest sign of easing pressure on the nation’s long-muzzled media.

A Yangon court agreed to withdraw charges against The Voice at the ministry’s request, following mediation by a recently-formed press council.

“The court allowed the withdrawal of the complaint,” judge Khin Thant Zin said, adding it was “the best way to resolve” the dispute which began when the publication was charged with defamation last September.

The article at the heart of the row reported a corruption probe linking the ministry with a Chinese co-owned copper mine, where activists’ accusations of land grabbing and pollution have sparked a series of protests.

Kyaw Min Swe, The Voice’s chief editor, welcomed the withdrawal as a “win-win” for both parties but vowed to continue “to speak out and write what we have to”.

He also warned “it was not good to have a government ministry and a media organisation in such a dispute” as Myanmar’s widely-praised reforms take root.

The new government that replaced the military regime in 2011 has been lauded for introducing wide reforms, including the welcoming of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party into mainstream politics and efforts to unshackle the media.

In August the regime announced the end of pre-publication censorship, previously applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales.

The country set up the interim press council to draft a new media law and has also announced it will allow private newspapers to publish daily from April 1, ending a decades-old ban.

In response to the “dramatic changes”, Myanmar rose to 151 out of 179 in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, an improvement of 18 places, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday.