This year’s parliamentary election will be organized differently compared to previous elections. Political observers believe that the new short election campaign period for promotions will become a huge disadvantage for new candidates. They recommend efficiently using the internet for election campaigning as it is the fastest, easiest and cheapest method.
In the interview below, the Head of the Mongolian News Websites Association, B.Oyungerel, elaborates on election campaign rules and regulations specified in the revised Election Law.
The revised Election Law states that candidates must open a new website for election campaign. Many people were confused by this as it gave the impression that using news websites to promote election campaigns was prohibited. Can you comment on this?
We noticed that there were many misleading and confusing provisions in the newly approved Election Law during its implementation. One of them was the provision on election campaigns.
Candidates don’t have specific information on how they should conduct election campaigns. In particular, a rumor has been spreading that it was forbidden to run election campaigns through the internet. News websites are also being cautious about publishing election campaign related articles and advertisement to prevent risks of penalty or getting their website shut down. However, you will understand that it’s actually the opposite if you read the law carefully. Using the internet to promote election campaigns enable much more wide range of opportunities that are all inclusive.
Article 83.1 in the Election Law states, “Candidates, political parties, and their campaign staff can operate an election campaign website for promotion of their campaign”. Some candidates misunderstood this and though that websites for only their own campaign was allowed. Candidates and their campaign staff must understand that it’s possible for them to use the internet for campaign promotions, but it’s not mandatory.
The internet is a wide network composed of various websites and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Lately, some people have started to question whether Facebook and Twitter should be considered a media outlet. They say that no one can be held accountable for something posted on social media. What’s your opinion on this?
The law specifies what is considered as a media outlet. As of now, there isn’t a provision recognizing Facebook and Twitter as media outlets. So social media isn’t a type of media outlet.
Article 83.4 in the Election Law states, “The client’s name or name of the election campaign staff must be stated to use the internet for election campaign”. Social media and other websites should be viewed as part of the internet. Let’s say that a candidate promotes himself on Facebook and Twitter. What would happen if a person with a fake account of a famous person misuses the candidate’s promotion, an unknown person distorts the post, or continues campaigning past election campaign period? Would people believe the campaign promotion? Like so, tons of questions are emerging one after another. Candidates need to consider all of this.
Can you clarify some things related to the Election Law? Article 83.2 in the Election Law states that only election campaign name, party, party group, candidate’s name and election slogan can be promoted on websites other than the official election campaign website. Does this mean that it’s prohibited to publish detailed information on candidates, their interview and articles?
No, this is something both the media and candidates are misunderstanding. It doesn’t mean to just post links to websites. As stated in Article 83.4 of the Election Law, the name of a client or the election campaign staff must be stated to use the internet for election campaign.
On the contrary, the internet offers wider opportunities for promoting campaigns from what I see. Unlike other media outlets, there isn’t any restrictions for election campaigns in terms of the size and form of content. Websites can place banners of candidates.
All types of advertisement, including video, audio, text, photo, interview and news articles are allowed. This is the reason that I believe the internet offers wider opportunities. There’s nothing to be anxious, confused or surprised by. No harm will be inflicted if candidates and election campaigns carry a copy of this provision.
Have you spoken to the General Election Commission of Mongolia about some questionable issues and misleading provisions in the Election Law surrounding election campaigns?
The Mongolian News Websites Association has requested to meet with the General Election Committee. There are some things we need to clarify but the General Election Committee isn’t an institution that explains laws. We need to get advice from them though.
the internet offers wider opportunities for promoting campaigns from what I see. Unlike other media outlets, there isn’t any restrictions for election campaigns in terms of the size and form of content. Websites can place banners of candidates.
Does the revised Election Law have provisions that may harm the media in any way or things the media should be cautious of?
Newspapers and televisions are a different matter. Specific time restrictions have been put on televisions and page restrictions for newspapers and other publications. As for the internet, there isn’t any restriction, but it only demands website operators to mention sources. The only thing to remember is to include sources. The website will be held accountable if a fake account is used or the source isn’t stated.
What will warrant news websites to be shut down?
Article 83.7 of the Election Law states, “If the staff of a media outlet or anyone who violated Article 83.7 can’t be found, the Communications Regulatory Commission of Mongolia will temporarily shut down any access to the website from Mongolia until the election ends”. The article specifically says that this measure will be taken only if the culprit can’t be identified so it basically concerns the social media. I don’t think it’s impossible to find a person who violates the law using websites because news websites are operated by newsrooms and their address and contact details are placed on the website. Most importantly, journalists and website operators mustn’t forget to mention the source. Besides this, other provisions don’t restrict operations of websites.
The media sector will not get caught up in any trouble as long as they remember to mention the sources of their news and information. However, it’s unclear who and how they will check whether or not there is a violation.
It seems that most candidates are interested in using social media to promote their campaign for free. What’s the News Websites Association’s opinion on this?
Statistics and indexes indicate that the public trust in social media has degraded. Websites with professional newsrooms are probably aware of the importance of reporting true, balanced and impartial information, and fully understand the consequences of violating the law. In this sense, news websites differ from social media. Each media outlet has their own group of readers.
Their readers have their own unique characteristics. It’s better for election campaigns to promote themselves through existing websites with readers than spending tons of money to launch a brand new website and inefficiently spread information. People have specific websites where they regularly visit for news and updates. Using those websites for election campaigns will boost the credibility of the promotions. It’s common for politicians to use “black PR” to destroy and discredit a political rival.
How is “black PR” regulated through the law?
Of course, the law prohibits negative campaigns such as discrediting others’ reputation and spreading false accusations. As stated in Article 70.1.6, it is forbidden to organize any form of selection aimed to determine political ranks via media outlets, the internet and text message, as well as degrade people’s reputation and spread false information. I think that everyone would understand this article even without an explanation. The media sector will not get caught up in any trouble as long as they remember to mention the sources of their news and information. However, it’s unclear who and how they will check whether or not there is a violation. Article 70.17 states, “Special operation license of any media organization that violates
Articles 70.1.6 and 70.7 will be revoked for six months from the recorded violation date according to the judgment from the state administration for fair competition [Authority for Fair Competition and Consumer Protection]”. I believe that having a state administration for fair competition determine whether an individual or organization has defamed others and/ or spread false information is actually an act of violation of the law. The court passes judgment, and yet, the new revised Election Law enables the Authority for Fair Competition and Consumer Protection to suspend operations of a media organization for up to six months based on a judgment by an employee at this authority. Related government agencies should pay attention to this issue.
In addition, the Election Law specifies that any member of a media organization or an individual will be imposed a penalty equal to six to eight times the minimum monthly wage if they breach Articles 83.4 and 83.5. It’s best for media organizations to take special note of this article.