Discussions on Access to Information and Fundamental Freedom
Opening Remarks by Ms. Beate Trankmann
UN Resident Coordinator in Mongolia
3 May 2016
Open Soros Foundation
Mr. B. Galaarid, President, Confederation of Mongolian Journalists
Ms. M. Batchimeg, Member of Parliament
Mr. N. Enkhbold, Member of Parliament
Ms. Marielza Oliveira, Director of UNESCO, Beijing Office
Mr. G. Jargalsaikhan, Secretary General, UNESCO National Commission of Mongolia
Ms. Kh. Naranjargal, President of Globe International Center
Representatives of Media and Civil Society
Distinguished Guests from China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong
I am pleased to be with you today to mark World Press Freedom Day. Every year, May 3rd provides an opportunity to celebrate and to evaluate press freedom around the world. It is a day to defend media independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
Free, diverse and independent media are an essential pillar of functioning democracies and have the power to transform societies. Access to information is critical to inform the political decision making process and ensure transparency. Open societies help empower individuals to take control of their destinies and to transform their lives. And they foster economic growth as investors are orienting their capital towards environments where media freedom is respected and information is easily available and accessible.
Mongolia has been making a steady progress in enhancing media freedom and access to information. According to the World Press Freedom Index, its ranking improved from 98th to 54th position between 2013 and 2015. 2016 however saw a slight regression with Mongolia dropping to 60th position out of 180 countries. The main factor behind this dip is the increased use of provisions in the law criminalizing defamation, which led to a jump in lawsuits against journalists and the blockage of websites – citing pejorative content as a reason.
This challenge was also noted by the UN Human Rights Council in the second Universal Periodic Review undertaken for Mongolia last May. Out of the 150 recommendations accepted by Mongolia, 8 are pertaining to freedom of expression and opinions and I would like to commend Mongolia for accepting the recommendations in full, including committing to:
- decriminalize defamation and put in place safeguards ensuring that criticism of and reporting on the activities of state and regional authorities do not lead to persecution or harassment
- ensure the independence of the Communications Regulatory Commission
- protect journalists’ sources and whistle-blowers
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For a vast country with low population density such as Mongolia, access to information for all is difficult to achieve. But the situation has been improving with the spread of mobile phones, satellite TV, and fiber optics. Information and Communication Technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in Mongolia. The number of internet subscribers rose 4.6 times during the last 5 years to over 2 million users in 2015. However, distribution is uneven. Over 83% of internet users reside in Ulaanbaatar while only 14% of them live in aimags and a mere 3% in soums. Geographic location affects people’s ability to access information. Non-urban populations, including herders and people living in remote areas are at a disadvantage in receiving and being able to access current information and digital services.
The UN appreciates Mongolia’s efforts in ensuring that the rights of access to information and freedom of expression are respected, protected and fulfilled. Mongolia has well-established laws on media freedom and access to information. Enforcing them and addressing remaining legal gaps to effectively safeguard the independence of its free and diverse media will be critical for the continued deepening of democracy in Mongolia. Continued efforts will need to be put into ensuring a level playing field for media outlets, facilitating transparency in reporting and putting in place safeguard measures to protect journalists and their sources.
This is of particular importance now, as the elections are approaching. Elections are the cornerstone of democracy, and media have a vital role in the election process. Media have the power to mobilize voters and remind them of their responsibilities and their rights. Journalists also have the right and professional duty to report on citizens’ and candidates’ concerns, visions and expectations thus allowing voters to make informed decisions. A free, professional and independent press is an essential component of a healthy functioning democracy and free and fair elections. This is true before, during and after the elections.
The UN stands ready to support Mongolia in fulfilling its commitments to improve human rights. Assisting follow up on the recommendations from the UPR and other Human Rights treaty bodies is a priority for the UN. Improving normative protection mechanisms to protect the rights of all populations and providing avenues for voice and participation will be one of the three focus areas of our new 5-year Development Assistance Framework.
I am confident that Mongolia, as a newly elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, will put great efforts in ensuring that human rights, rights to freedom of expression and opinion, rights to information are respected in Mongolia.
I wish you a success in the discussions.