Freedom of the Press
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Freedoms of speech and of the press are protected under Mongolian law, but the government has an uneven record on respecting these rights in practice.
Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by fines of between 51 and 150 times the monthly national minimum wage (roughly $6,000 to $17,000), or by jail terms of between three and six months. The burden of proof in defamation cases rests with the defendant. Public figures and private organizations frequently file defamation cases against journalists.
In 2014, Minister for Roads and Transport A. Gansukh brought criminal libel complaints against two of his detractors. In August, Ts. Bat, an engineer and blogger whose sister is the minister of culture, was found guilty of defaming Gansukh in a series of Twitter posts, marking Mongolia’s first defamation conviction involving a social-media user. Bat was sentenced to 100 days in prison but was released on appeal in September, with the court ruling that further investigation into his allegations against Gansukh was necessary. Gansukh filed a criminal libel case against a second Twitter user, railroad researcher L. Davaapil, over an October post in which Davaapil accused Gansukh of corruption. In December, a first instance court found Davaapil guilty and ordered him to pay a fine of 9.7 million tögrög ($5,200).
In another case involving social media, journalist S. Ankhbayar was charged with defamation in December in connection with Facebook posts in which he accused a local official of allowing the illegal allocation of land permits, and of misusing public funds. The case remained open at year’s end.
The 2011 Law on Information Transparency and Right to Information contains restrictions on what information is considered public. Authorities often invoke these exceptions, as well as the State Secrets Law, in order to limit disclosures. Information released under the 2011 law is frequently presented in a confusing format.
Mongolia’s media sector is overseen by the Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC). The government appoints the commission’s members without input from the public, and its tender processes are nontransparent. The authorities routinely monitor broadcast and print media for compliance with restrictions on violent, pornographic, and alcohol-related content.
The media landscape is diverse but politicized. Most print and broadcast outlets are affiliated with political parties and display political bias. Both public and private media frequently experience political pressure.
While the law bans censorship, the CRC in 2013 introduced regulations requiring internet service providers to install software that can filter and delete user comments containing slander or threats, which are to be identified using a list of “prohibited words” published by the CRC. In June 2014, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the CRC for blocking the news website Amjilt.com. Hours before the block was imposed, the regulator had informally asked the outlet, via a phone call, to remove a story that was critical of Mongolia’s prime minister.
Self-censorship is encouraged by the risk of legal liability, and journalists often retract critical stories before defamation cases go to trial.
Media workers risk intimidation, harassment, and physical attacks for critical reporting. In June 2014, members of a news team with the television station TV8, who were working on a story about unauthorized nightclubs, were attacked by one club’s security guards; the guards also destroyed a video camera. The same news crew was temporarily detained by the owner of another nightclub, who destroyed a second video camera. In August, the News.mn website experienced a cyberattack after it published a story on Mongolia’s Independent Authority against Corruption. The outlet reported the incident to the General Intelligence Agency, which after two days said it was unable to determine the attack’s origin.
Mongolia’s media sector features hundreds of newspapers and approximately two dozen television stations, most of which are local. Residents of the country’s vast rural areas generally rely on national public radio for information. Most media outlets are reportedly owned directly or indirectly by political actors, who exert influence on editorial decisions. Exact ownership structures are not publicly known, however, making it difficult to assess the reliability of some media content.
In addition to local broadcasters, Mongolians have access to English-language programming from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America on private FM stations, and, in Ulaanbaatar, foreign television programming via cable and satellite. About 27 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2014.
Low wages for journalists have created a secondary market for purchasing coverage, and the media sector has yet to produce strong business models to facilitate sustainable growth or independence. Although the growing advertising market in Ulaanbaatar provides an increasingly viable avenue for financial sustainability, the meager market in the provinces often leaves local media outlets dependent on government subsidies and the direct support of political or business figures.