Mongolian governance and Swiss cheese
Democracy is a system of governance where people organize the state by electing their representatives. Media came into the mix when newspapers started getting published during the industrial revolution. Ever since, media has effected change on governance through influencing public opinion. Given its important role in keeping democracy healthy, media is often referred to as the fourth branch of government (after legislative, executive, and judicial branches) and the backbone of a democracy.
However, Mongolia’s democracy and public governance today more resembles a Swiss cheese, with small and big holes eaten away by corruption. The only remedy that makes these holes full again is the media. In a democracy, people not only elect their representatives but also oversee their personal and government activities. This is only enabled by a media that publishes facts, follows-up, and organizes informed debates.
Our media landscape today
According to 2016 data from the Press Institute of Mongolia, our country has 446 media outlets, 96 of which are online, despite having a population of only 3 million. Twenty-five per cent of all media outlets operate in rural areas, and our media sector has a total of 4,726 working people , 44 per cent of whom are journalists. We have six newspapers published in foreign languages, and one in Kazakh, which is a minority language.
The Press Freedom Index has put Mongolia 69th out of 180 countries. It means that we are one of the countries with ‘noticeable problems’ in terms of press freedom (RSF / Reporters Without Borders, 2016). Also, Freedom House concluded that Mongolia’s press is ‘partly free’.
The Constitution of Mongolia grants freedom of speech and a free press. But our democracy will not develop and flourish unless we discuss our press freedom issues and fix them. The most noticeable problem in Mongolia’s press today is that the state owns media outlets both openly and secretly, and keeps influencing the public opinion. Media must be supervising the state and government, but it is the opposite in Mongolia as politicians control the press and use it for personal gain. A silent danger is threatening Mongolia’s democracy.
The Law of Mongolia on Freedom of Media, which was enacted in 1998, states in its Clause 3 and 4 “Media outlets and organizations should bear responsibility for the information published and broadcast by them. The State shall not control or censor the content of public information. The State shall not establish organizations to monitor the information that is published and broadcast by media outlets nor finance it” and “State bodies are prohibited to have their own media organizations.” Freedom of the press is realized not only by making legislation, but more importantly following it.
However, it is evident from studies completed by Reporters Without Borders and the Press Institute of Mongolia that 70 per cent of Mongolia’s media is controlled by high-ranking state officers or those who used to hold such positions in the past. This shows that the authorities are secretly brainwashing people. A clear example is the Mongolian National Broadcaster, whose management and budget is controlled by the government. Lately local governments have increasingly been influencing television and newspapers to promote their agenda.
Improving Freedom of the Press
The National Security Concept of Mongolia, which was ratified in 2010, included a clause for the first time on requiring the ownership of media to be transparent. Also, a document outlining the general requirements and conditions for TV and radio broadcasting was passed by Resolution 15 of the the Communications Regulatory Commission of Mongolia in 2015. Chapter Five in the document is entitled ‘Transparency on Ownership’ and states that “Anyone who owns a special permit for broadcasting services must have its permit and licences transparent to the public, in order to ensure the independence, openness, and ethicality of broadcasting. The broadcasters must provide information in written form on investors, owners of special permits, management, names, contact details, organizational structure of the legal entity, and citizenship of executives to the Commission within the first quarter of every year.” It is now time to make sure that this clause is implemented.
Mongolian National Broadcaster makes up half of its annual budget from the public budget, 25 per cent from fees imposed on every household, and the rest from advertising revenue (2 per cent of airtime) and other sources. It is time to reduce their dependence on the public budget, have them rent out their huge building, reduce headcount, increase salaries, create a board of directors not controlled by the state, headhunt executives, and have them work under a contract. Now is the time to start learning from organizations such as BBC, NHK, and ZDF.
In Mongolia, journalists except for ‘public broadcasting employees’ still do not have the right to keep their sources confidential. It needs to be law that government organizations and employees have to provide official, truthful responses to queries from journalists. The times we are living in require media organizations to be independent, and the legal environment to be able to protect freedom of the press.
Also, it is time to develop our civil society and raise awareness of what media does and why it is needed by educating our children from an early stage, teach them about democracy and the free market, and improve the political education of the people.
This article was prepared as part of my conclusions drawn from the Mongolian-German 15th Conference organized with support from Konrad Adenauer Foundation