We are pleased to present to you our recurrent report on the state of media freedom in Mongolia. The Media Freedom Report 2020 has three sections, namely Media Legal Framework, the Current Status of Freedom of Expression, and the Civil and Criminal Defamation Cases against Journalists and Media Organizations, and includes two Annexes, one on UNHRC Recommendations to the Government of Mongolia regarding Freedom of Expression and the other on Monitoring on Violations of Civil and Political Rights amid COVID-19.
According to the Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Mongolia is ranked at the 68th place out of 180 countries, up to 5 places from the last year, meaning that Mongolia remains a country having issues around press freedom. As of the end of 2019, there were around 500 registered media outlets that employ nearly 4750 people, out of which half are journalists and creative staff, according to the Mongolian Press Institute survey.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, which was produced at a UNESCO seminar held in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia in 1991. In December 1993 the UN declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day. Furthermore, WPFD concurs with Mongolia’s 60th anniversary of UN membership and acknowledgement of the Universal declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the country.
UNESCO identifies the 2021 World Press Freedom Day theme as “Information as a Public Good” in its Concept Note and highlights the following three key topics:
• Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media;
• Mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies;
• Enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good.
Journalism plays an essential role to prevent the spread of disinformation and effectively fight against it. Although, it is particularly concerning that restrictive laws hinder the legitimate professional rights of journalists. The 20th Status Report on Human Rights and Freedoms in Mongolia compiled by the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia noted: “Taking preventive legal measures against the spread of obviously false information during the state of emergency is consistent with human rights principles. However, criticism of professional organizations that the lack of narrow definition of what constitutes “obviously false information” and “the spread of false information” allows arbitrary use of laws by those in power and creates a chilling effect on media freedom and freedom of expression is reasonable.”
It is regretful that in practice, legal changes made in light of the pandemic are being misused against citizens. According to our monitoring of violations of civil and political rights conducted from 25 November 2020 to 25 February 2021, around 80 cases of violations have been documented. Furthermore, more than half of 300 Mongolian journalists involved in a survey undertaken by the Mongolian Media Council considered that “since the implementation of the state of “all-out-preparedness”, media freedom has deteriorated.” Two-thirds of the respondents said, officially provided news was prevailed in most of the information they published.” As of the constraints in ensuring balanced sources of information, the respondents said that “journalists were self-censored.”
It is more toxic and more deadly than disinformation about other subjects. That is why this policy brief coins the term disinfodemic. Negative impacts of disinformation can have fatal consequences during the pandemic and it can be a matter of life and death. “Disinformation thrives in the absence of verifiable, trustworthy information. Equally, it can also flourish amid high volumes of content when people may find it difficult to distinguish credible information from disinformation; between what is a verified fact and what is not” as noted in the Policy briefs. The translation of the first part of the Policy briefs is publicly available on our website.
In 2020, both the Parliamentary and Local Elections were held under the new Election Law. The Election Law of 2015 with integrated parliamentary, presidential and local elections has been renewed in 2020 by enacting separate laws governing each election. However, provisions of these laws still encourage censorship against the media, and journalists have worked under strict legal restrictions during the Elections.
On 4 November 2020, the UN Human Rights Council during its 36th session reviewed Mongolia’s human rights status for the third time. Earlier, the session had been scheduled for 4th to 15th of May 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was postponed and held online. Unfortunately, eight freedom of expression-related recommendations made during the previous Human Rights Council session are not implemented yet. Human Rights Council’s 2020 recommendations regarding the full exercise of freedom of expression include: to decriminalize defamation, investigate attacks against journalists and media workers, to ensure the safety of journalists, to adopt an effective data protection legislation to better protect the right to privacy and to lift restrictions imposed on the media and Internet use. We do hope that the Parliament and Government will put necessary efforts to fulfill these recommendations.