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Thursday, June 21, 2012
Global Toolbox

The grass is not so green in Mongolia

By Bruce C. Swaffield

The grass is not so green in Mongolia

By Bruce C. Swaffield

There is a Mongolian proverb that says, “Times are not always the same; the grass is not always green.”

The times these days are not so good for journalists in Mongolia.

“Mongolia had a very mixed media landscape in 2011,” reports Media Programme Asia by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The organization cited findings from Forum-Asia, a human rights group, that examined freedom of expression and information throughout the country in August and September 2011.

Based on the report and its own work, Media Programme Asia said a number of developments and incidents have occurred since the passage of the so-called “Freedom of Information” bill in June 2011.

JUNE 16: The “Law on Information, Transparency, Right and Freedom to Access Information” was passed by Parliament after a five-year discussion. For the first time, the public has the right to request and access information from government organizations. The new legislation, however, did not change the use of confidential sources by journalists. The media in Mongolia are not protected by any type of shield law except for a limited number of broadcasters who work for public stations.

JULY: The editor of one of the largest papers in the capital of Ulaanbaatar was granted his freedom because of health reasons. In March, Dolgor Chuluunbaatar was charged with turning the daily into a privately held company. He could have been held in jail for up to 15 years.

JULY: Two reporters from another daily in the same city were placed under arrest for criticizing a pastor.

JULY: Numerous employees at newspapers and broadcast stations in Ulaanbaatar were hurt during protests against the media. The main buildings of three newspapers were destroyed by arsonists.

JULY: The editor-in-chief of a television station in a northern province was attacked near her residence. The station had recently run a piece titled “Forbidden to Watch” about how mining companies conduct business in Mongolia.

AUGUST: A company director at the national newspaper Zuunii Medee filed suit against a journalist on the paper claiming he was slandered; a judge later dismissed the case. In a separate matter, a husband and wife were found guilty and fined for defaming a government minister.

DEC. 1: The “Law on Information, Transparency, Right and Freedom to Access Information” went into effect.

Overall, Media Programme Asia said the new law may not improve the freedoms of information, expression and the press. They pointed out problems “such as criminalisation of defamation, the absence of the right to protect confidential sources, the absence of public interest defence for journalists, [and] media censorship in different guises.” They also criticized the “closure of Internet chat rooms” and “demonstrations against restrictions on reporting student protests.”

Terrence Edwards, English editor for Mongolian Economy (mongolianeconomy.mn), said in an article in March: “In Mongolia many journalists see their position as a stepping stone to a political career, while others receive large payments from elected officials during election season for favorable coverage. Sources in government have also complained of midnight phone calls threatening to print a false article unless they pay a hefty bribe.”

The next several months will show if the situation grows worse or becomes better. Some of what occurs could depend on what you and I do to help. It wouldn’t hurt us, or take much time, to write the Embassy of Mongolia in Washington, D.C. Tell Ambassador Khasbazaryn Bekhbat how you feel about the treatment of journalists in his country. His email contact is esyam@mongolianembassy.us.

By the way, one of the latest incidents in the country is the attack of a film crew earlier this year:

“The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Confederation of Mongolian Journalists (CMJ) in condemning the assault on a Khongor Television news crew in Bayankhongor Province in western Mongolia, on January 2.

“Journalist T. Danaasuren and camera operator J. Tuvshintulga were assaulted while covering a series of incidents between small local mining entrepreneurs and guards from the Special Mines company, following complaints from local residents.”

For more on this story and to stay informed, visit ifj.org.


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