21.02.2007 -

Investigative journalism in Mongolia

Enkhbaatar G. is a journalist with the Ardyn Erkh daily newspaper in Mongolia. In 2005, he participated in the "Media for Transparent Governance" programme. Its goal: to raise Mongolian journalists' awareness of corruption and train them in investigative journalism. WebWorld now publishes his story.

It was interesting. It was challenging. It was dangerous, too. Twenty journalists from popular Mongolian media investigated corruption issues for the first time and I felt lucky to be part of that intense eight-month programme. The team I was working with focused on three articles whose titles were: "Suspicious Facts of Law School, True Face of Two Friends and Freedom to Journalists!"


The training and supervision were provided by the Mongolian freedom of expression advocacy group Globe International in cooperation with Philippine Press Institute and the initiative was coordinated by UNESCO's office in Beijing.


We needed to find information, and information sources, facts, adequate proof and documentation. And we did not have any experiences.


Beginning the investigation


In January, we received basic training in investigative reporting. We formed four teams and we investigated corruption cases in the fields of health, economy, education and environment. I was in the Education team.


In April, Yvonne Chua from Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism came to evaluate our investigations and help us with the writing of our stories.


During the workshops we learned that corruption is more than bribery; that abuse of power comes in many shapes and forms.


After hours of discussion, my group agreed to focus on entrance and graduate exams at the Law School of the Mongolian National University, where we had a confidential source works.


With the help of a person who shall remain unnamed, we were able to access and copy the director's instructions over the past 10 years. It transpired that the Director, S. Narangerel, and his Deputy, N. Lundendorj, were the only people in charge of the State Examination Commission. Interestingly, we found that around ten present and former Members of the Parliament received degrees from the evening faculty of the Law School. Yet we found no trace of their enrollment at the school.


Documents further showed that Mr. N. Lundendorj has got his bachelor degree and Ph.D from the evening faculty and gained Ph.D while he was working as deputy director.


We decided to look into the entrance exams to the Law School. One member of our team went there and as she was submitting documents for admission, a fellow applicant told her that he can buy the test of exams for 300,000 Mongolian togrogs (approximately US $258). He proposed that they share the amount.


A day before exams, our journalist and the applicant were given 42 questions out of the 50 questions of the entrance exam, enough to pass. Both took the exam and both were admitted. The questions were given to them by the sister of the applicant who had dinner with the director of the law school the day before the exam.


The guy had arranged for the questions to be bought demanded his payment. After long discussion, we decided to tell him the truth. He was shocked and asked not to publish his name.


The results


Journalists completed their articles in October and our material was published with the team names. It is sad to say that our team refused to publish one of the stories we investigated. Instead, we published one titled "Freedom to Journalists!"


The story we did not publish exposed serious corruption, but we couldn't publish it and this is very regrettable. Current legislation means that following somebody is persecution, collecting information is infringement of privacy and may violate legislation protection the secrets of organizations or the state. Taking pictures can be considered an encroachment on the subject's private life and recording their voices without consent is illegal. Criticizing someone is tantamount to defamation. And judges require notary verification before they will accept the documents we may produce as valid evidence. The law does not provide for freedom of information, nor does it recognize our rights to protect our sources.


If investigative reporters must work the way detectives do, that is not possible in Mongolia. We did do it, but we ran the risk of being accused in violation of numerous provisions of the Criminal Law.


And we wouldn't stand much of a chance of winning in front of a court of law. Even if we enjoyed a fair trial, we would lose the case because there is no Mongolian law to protects us.


In the end, we learned how to look out for and detect corruption. But we have also learned to practice self-censorship.

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