Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Legal Environment for Obtaining Information

Sh. Unentugs

The concept of human rights nowadays has come to encompass much broader spectrum each country in the world perceiving human rights violation as a criterion for its international reputation and for the civilized world the human rights issue has become one of the main criteria to evaluate individual countries’ performances. Freedom of information, too, falls under these criteria.

Apart from the Constitution and Law on Freedom of Media, currently, there are almost 90 other laws that regulate matters related to media. These include the Law on Advertisement, Civil and Criminal Codes, Law on Crime Prevention and Anti-Pornography Law. The right to and freedom of information, or to be short, the media relations are regulated at the state policy level and is being shaped as an independent branch of legislative framework.

All measures taken in the past reflect a clear desire of the society to constitute its attitude to media and regulate its activities while showing the importance of society’s regulative role for this sector as well. For example, a research shows that in the course of the past three years six district courts in the capital city looked into 83 legal cases, including 79 civil and 4 criminal, that dealt with infliction of damage to personal, legal entity’s, or job reputation by the media.

In 47 out of these 79 civil cases, the court found the defendant media outlet guilty of slander or damaging the job reputation via press. Moreover, the fact that such cases account for 59.4% of civil cases, and for 29.1% of the total, or in 23 cases taken up by the court the involved media outlet acknowledged its guilt shows the negligent attitude of media towards human rights issues.

It would be relevant to note here that the situation with the protection of rights of media is not that bad. One can see this from the results of the Mongolia law assessment carried out by international experts.

20 years ago there were 75 kinds of newspapers and magazines being published in our country, four households out of five listened to the radio and one person out of seven watched TV. Today one can boast the existence of 1264 newspapers, 268 magazines, four independent and 16 cable TV stations, eight long-wave and 14 short- wave radio stations, 11 information and advertising agencies as well as six Internet providers. At a glance, this shows that with respect to information, Mongolia is witnessing formation of a relatively free environment.

Despite current legislature on information and statistical data cited above, one cannot deny the urgent need to improve the legal environment for ensuring freedom of information. Creation of a system within which the state can ensure openness and accuracy of information in a civil society by improving its legal environment while safeguarding freedom of media as well as protecting the rights of journalists and others working in the field; renewing and enforcing moral standards to be followed by the latter; remain a pressing issue yet.

Last year the Parliament ratified the Law on Advertisement. Draft laws on Public Radio and Television and MONTSAME Information Agency are being discussed.

Inclusion of a provision in the new Criminal Code which aims at preventing any outside pressure on journalists and others working in the media field for cases in full compliance with the law, and safeguarding the rights of the press, has provided the first credible legal guarantee for protecting the rights of journalists in our country.

Moreover, decrees 21 and 22 issued by the Minister of Interior and Justice have established regulations that outline the expansion of cooperation with media organizations and coordination of activities to be carried out to facilitate providing the public with accurate information. According to these regulations, the press has to be provided with information it asks for within 3 days and is granted the right to see the original copy of the material if needed. Public servants who deliberately fail to follow these rules are to bear the responsibility.

Though the above measures constitute positive steps in the right direction, it is not a secret that, in practice, it is difficult for citizens to receive information from a public organization unless they have connections there. Therefore, it is essential that citizens’ right to seek, use and disperse such information be regulated and guaranteed by legal provisions. For example, starting from 1998, the international legal practice came to see and enforce freedom of information together with the right to obtain information from public organizations as a constituent part of freedom of expression.

Although the Mongolian Constitution envisages the right of its citizens to seek and obtain all sorts of information except information which is liable to special state protection, as of today, there is no separate law that would guarantee that right.

Hence, it is necessary to improve the legal environment for ensuring the accessibility of information as well as to formulate and adopt the Law on Freedom of Information. This Law should lay the ground for the implementation of such vital principles as the maximum accessibility of public institutions; their showing initiative in providing the public with

Information necessary; reducing the scope of classified information; creating a mechanism to help people obtain information they need; and holding of open meetings by public institutions.

This would require the introduction of changes in the Law on State Secrecy, Law on Secrecy of organizations, and Law on Privacy as well as formulating and ratification of the Law on Information Technology.

The right to obtain information, envisaged in the International Human Rights Bill and the Constitution, is a right suggesting a very high degree of responsibility. On the other hand, however, it is the state’s legal and moral responsibility to maintain social security and order, as well as protect its citizens’ rights from being violated and their personal and job reputation being unjustifiably undermined.

About the author: Sh. Unentogs

Ministry of Interior and Justice


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