Attacks on the Press 2000: Mongolia

WHEN THE FORMERLY COMMUNIST PARTY THAT RULED MONGOLIA for seven decades returned to power in July, there were fears of renewed government interference with the media. These fears were heightened by a state morality drive that kicked off in September.

During the campaign, the Justice Ministry reviewed all media outlets to check their compliance with regulations outlawing pornography, the promotion of violence, or advertisements promoting alcohol and tobacco. Several tabloids were cited for allegedly violating these laws, and their cases referred to the courts. In an interview with the Daily News, a newspaper in the capital, Ulan Bator, Newspaper Association of Mongolia president R. Khadbaatar accused the government of using “the pretext of fighting…pornography and violence [while] the ultimate objective of these activities is directed to terminate criticizing papers.”

Most journalists agreed that the media review evoked the old-style censorship imposed by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) in the decades when it held exclusive power with Soviet support. They noted, however, that the papers singled out were sensational tabloids featuring naked women, lurid crime stories, and little or no hard news or political coverage.

A 1998 media law provides extensive theoretical protection for independent journalism, though provisions governing bureaucratic reform, access to information, and media ownership are vague. A government offer to clarify the law was met with skepticism from the local press. While the justice minister claimed that the amendments would provide better access to information, journalists warned that any revision would likely dilute the law’s protections.