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Government construction engineer sues "Modern Journal"

(Mizzima News/IFEX) - 8 March 2012 - "Modern Journal"'s managing editor and a reporter were granted bail on Tuesday 6 March 2012 in the first hearing of a libel lawsuit filed by a government construction engineer, according to their attorney.

Managing editor Wai Hlyan and reporter Thet Su Aung had been temporarily detained. They were granted bail in a suit filed by Nwe Nwe Yi, a construction engineer in Thabeikkyin Township, Mandalay Region, said lawyer Myint Thwin. The Thabeikkyin Township court set the next hearing for 23 March.

The engineer, who works under the Construction Ministry, filed the libel suit against the journal after it published a news article about damaged roads and bridges in Thabeikkyin Township. The article also reported that the engineer told the Su Htoo Pan Company to collect toll fees.

Kyaw Yin Myint, an official with the "Modern Journal", said drivers told reporter Thet Su Aung that roads and bridges in Thabeikkyin Township were in bad condition, leading to some vehicle accidents, and that the toll fee was high.

In early January, a senior official from the Construction Ministry summoned journal officials and the reporter and complained that the article was not accurate, Kyaw Yin Myint told Mizzima.

"The senior official, a retired lieutenant colonel, seemed angry, and he said that he would file a lawsuit against us. I think they sued us so that we wouldn't write about bad roads and bridges again," Kyaw Yin Myint noted.

Kyaw Yin Myint added that the media have a role to play in public affairs now that the newly elected government has expanded some press freedoms, noting that the media can exercise a constructive role in society.

Talking about media laws, Kyaw Yin Myint said that if news reports are not accurate and result in damages to people or businesses, then the media can be sued. But in order to protect journalists, there must be clear laws that guarantee the media's right to accurately and fairly report the news, and the courts need to rule on the laws fairly and without bias, Kyaw Yin Myint added.

Burma Media Association Secretary Zin Lin said the news journals in Burma are waiting for the government to enact a new press law that will offer the media more freedom and protection from frivolous libel suits.

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