Mongolia: Media Council poised in the starting blocks | Asia | DW | 14.07.2015
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Mongolia: Media Council poised in the starting blocks

Journalists in Mongolia are calling it a historical event - the establishment of the country's first ever independent media council. Expectations for the council, which is just about to assume its actitivies, are high.

Members of the Media Council of Mongolia deliberates over complaints – just case studies for now (photo: DW Akademie)

Members of the Media Council of Mongolia deliberate over complaints - just case studies for now

The chair of Mongolia's new media ethics committee for print and online media, Shirchin Sukhbaatar, calls the meeting to order and checks the agenda in front of him. Seated around the table, the 15 newly elected members start discussing the press complaints submitted for them to review. They go through each case, assessing its validity and which clause of the Mongolian Media Code it possibly violates. The council then votes on a course of action to take about the complaint.

The complaints are fictitious though. With DW Akademie's support and moderation by Manfred Protze from the German Press Council, the committee meeting is an important trial run. With the practice session behind them, the ethics committees of the Media Council of Mongolia can begin. The 30 media council members are divided into two ethics committees; one for print and online media, the other for television and radio. The complaint process allows readers and viewers to air their grievances about reports in the media that, for example, might violate their rights to privacy or are discriminatory. The Media Council makes its decisions according to the recently adopted journalism code of ethics. "We are creating a new culture in the Mongolian media sector," says Sukhbaatar. "I am really glad to be a part of it but I also have serious respect for the work ahead of us."

Setting a common goal

In consultation with Manfred Protze (left) from the German Press Council, committee members determine a course of action (photo: DW Akademie)

Manfred Protze (right) from the German Press Council advises members of Mongolia's Media Council on how to organize their files

Gunjidmaa Gongor, a media council board member, is one of the project's initiators. She says it was an effort to establish the council. "Many people didn't believe that we would ever reach an agreement with the most important journalist associations in the country," says Gunjidmaa Gongor, who is also the Executive Director of the Press Institute of Mongolia. "We made it work in the end though." It took the support of leading journalists as well as managers and owners of media companies to create a media regulatory body "free of political or financial interests," she says. This is a first in Mongolia's media landscape.

DW Akademie has been involved in the project since January 2014 after being approached by the project initiators for advice. In turn, DW Akademie sought to include other organizations active in promoting press freedom in Mongolia. "We felt it was essential to work with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Ulan Bator, the Press Institute of Mongolia and Globe International, which are both Mongolian NGOs, as well as the Mongolian Journalists Association," DW Akademie country coordinator Eva Mehl says.

DW Akademie contributed practical exercises and best practices from different countries. "In addition to Manfred Protze from the German Press Council, Ljiljana Zurovac from the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina was another real asset as a trainer," Mehl says. "Zurovac was able to draw from the transformation process that had occurred in her own country, and offer Mongolian journalists profound insight into the media self-regulation process."

Limitations to press freedom

Members of Mongolia's first media council at the Press Institute of Mongolia (PIM) in Ulan Bator (photo: DW Akademie).

Members of Mongolia's first media council at the Press Institute of Mongolia (PIM) in Ulan Bator

In Mongolia, the shift to democracy and a market economy has set off a media explosion. Currently around 500 media outlets serve a population of just under three million people. Corruption and political sway continue to curtail press freedom, however. The number of libel suits filed against journalists is on the rise, as is self-censorship. According to information gathered by Mongolian NGO Globe International, 172 websites have been blocked since 2012.

More recently, the government has begun requiring websites with more than 3,000 visitors a day over a one month period to register and install a government specified filter that censors more than a hundred words deemed inappropriate by the government. In addition, an emphasis on sensationalist reporting combined with a disregard of journalism ethics and lack of attention to detail make it difficult for the general populate to access accurate information.

The dream of an independent council

Many Mongolian journalists have high hopes that the newly founded Media Council of Mongolia will help protect press freedom in future. "The Media Council will allow us to create a healthy environment for the Mongolian media landscape," Gunjidmaa Gongor says. "It will have a positive impact on the quality of journalism. We have a lot of hurdles to overcome before we get there though. First and foremost, we have to win the trust of the media and the public."

Ulan Bator is booming (photo: DW Akademie).

Ulan Bator is booming - and the mix of traditional and modern is challenging for the media landscape as well

The next step for the newly elected members of the media council is to raise public awareness of the workings of the council. This will be done with the support of DW Akademie and other partners. "People in rural areas in particular are often uninformed. Many have heard about the media council but they don't know what it does. We need to get that information out there," says online editor Bolortulga Erdenebileg, who works for the public service broadcaster MNB (Mongolian National Broadcaster) and was elected by the Website Association to serve on the council. The Media Council of Mongolia's ultimate goal is to become an independent and credible organization respected by journalists, media, civil society and government alike.

DW Akademie will continue its support of the Media Council of Mongolia until 2017. The long-term project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ).

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  • Date 14.07.2015
  • Author Nadine Wojcik / ssc
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  • Date 14.07.2015
  • Author Nadine Wojcik / ssc
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink