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Thursday, May 3, 2007

Messages on World Press Freedom Day

The President of Mongolia N. Enkhbayar made a congratulatory message today on the event of May 3, the World Press Freedom Day, and called on the press workers of Mongolia to ensure the freedom of press, balanced and factual news, and good ethical journalism far away from prosecution, oppression, and political interest groups.

Free press, a value of democracy, has brought a new era of free expression in the last transition period of Mongolia. Free press have played important role to the development of Mongolia. Free press is facing many challenging issues as itself goes through a difficult road.
Charge d’ Affairs of the U.S. Embassy to Ulaanbaatar, Brian Goldbeck, stressed that press freedom is vitally important for Mongolia.
Mongolia’s citizens must have the ability to express themselves, to debate alternative ideas and to challenge assumptions. As such, a media that is independent from the state allows the peaceful expression and competition of ideas on which democracy depends.
He considered State Secrets Law of Mongolia as overly restrictive and punitive when compared against other post-communist countries.
Mongolia's State Secrets Law, for example, extends the definition of "state secret" to not only national security interests (such as sensitive national defense information which Mongolia, like other nations, has a right to protect) but also to a whole host of other non-sensitive but useful and informative items such as basic economic and census data, the identity of shareholders in private companies, audits of state-owned companies, and even draft laws, amendments, and regulations. Sadly, such restrictions tend to empower some corrupt bureaucrats to levy or solicit "fines" (extra-legal fees or bribes) on citizens and businesses. On another level, however, it has sometimes been used to harass and convict people whose views or activities were considered contrary to authority or vested interests. Narrowing the State Secrets Law would enable Mongolians to find and know truth. In addition, Mongolia's press can play an important role by shining a bright light on corruption.

Looking back over the past year, there has some progress. For example, the Cabinet of Ministers discussed the final draft of the Freedom of Information Law, but action was postponed to allow it to be discussed along with laws on information security and information technology. We hope this will be the year for that discussion and action.

Mongolia has much to be proud of in the area of press freedom, yet some troubling issues remain. For example, the current criminal libel law encourages self-censorship and makes journalists and editors susceptible from threats from powerful individuals and companies. We have examined these issues at greater length in our recently released human rights report on Mongolia. How can this be remedied? Mongolia should consider changing its libel law to a reasonable civil libel law based on those used in other democracies.

Similarly, making ownership of media companies clear and transparent would enable audiences to judge for themselves where their reporting may be biased. In the last year, several new daily newspapers and TV stations were established and we hope it will stimulate better quality reporting through increased competition.

For their part, journalists and editors also need to report responsibly and ethically. Journalists and editors must set high personal and professional standards and take their responsibilities seriously. Refusing bribes and being “clean” themselves would enable journalists to report credibly on corruption.

Much progress has been made since the end of Socialism and Mongolians can and should be proud of these achievements. Making these few additional reforms would enable Mongolians to enjoy the full benefits of press freedom. This is an important test of the Mongolian people’s commitment to freedom and democracy and their government’s ability to deliver it.

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