Freedom of the Press
Mongolia has a vibrant media sector. However, the media landscape is politicized, and journalists frequently face defamation suits.
- In July 2015, journalist S. Battulga was fined 19.2 million tögrög ($10,000) following a defamation conviction. A portion of that amount was deducted for time he had already served in prison in connection with the charge.
- In January, journalists established the Press Council of Mongolia, the country’s first-ever independent media council.
Legal Environment: 13 / 30
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 July 2015, journalist S. Battulga was arrested on criminal defamation charges stemming from a 2013 article she had published about a property dispute involving Noyod LLC, a local trading company; Battulga had been involved in a prolonged legal battle leading up to her arrest, and had been briefly imprisoned in July 2014 in connection with the same case. Following her second arrest in 2015, she remained in prison until her sentencing later that July, at which a court ordered her to pay a fine of 19.2 million tögrög ($10,000), with 4.2 million tögrög ($2,100) from the penalty deducted for time served. Battulga’s arrest drew widespread condemnation from advocacy organizations and local journalists.
Two journalists who were facing criminal defamation charges brought against them by provincial authorities in late 2014 saw the charges against them dismissed in June 2015. One of the journalists, S. Ankhbayar, had been charged for accusing a local official via social media of allowing the illegal allocation of land permits, and of misusing public funds. The other journalist, N. Munkhtur, was initially found guilty by a first instance court of defaming a local politician in several articles he had written and posted on his own news website. The charges were later dismissed by an appeals court.
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.
In January 2015, journalists established the Press Council of Mongolia, the country’s first-ever independent media council. During its first year in existence, the organization teamed up with foreign partners, including media-ethics experts from the German Press Council and the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so members could learn standard practices and obtain practical advice relevant to its mission of ensuring press freedom, protecting journalists’ rights, and promoting quality, ethical journalism.
Political Environment: 12 / 40
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.
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. However, 2015 was a relatively peaceful year for journalists in Mongolia.
Economic Environment: 12 / 30
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, 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 (VOA) on private FM stations, and, in Ulaanbaatar, foreign television programming via cable and satellite. About 21 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.