Outlook: Freedom Online Coalition Conference in Ulaanbaatar

[For my impressions from the Conference, see https://blogs.ubc.ca/mongolia/2015/freedom-online-coalition-mongolia/]

Next week (May 4-5) the Mongolian government hosts the annual conference of the Freedom Online Coalition, a club of 26 countries dedicated to the promotion of, er, freedom online.

This is yet another success in Mongolia’s foreign policy, leveraging its status as Asia’s only post-state-socialist democracy to engage “third neighbours” and specifically to forge closer ties with tele-neighbourly democracies. Note, for example, that Mongolia’s immediate neighbours, Russia and China, are unlikely to be seen anywhere near the notion of freedom online.

Previous examples of events/organizations that help Mongolia remain on the radar screen of powerful large democracies: Community of Democracies 2013,, OSCE, next year’s Asia Europe Meeting.

Freedom Online Ulaanbaatar

Motto: “Internet Policy Making – Best Practices for Promoting Online Freedom

You can see how my interest in Digital Diplomacy coupled with my focus on Mongolia mean that I was eager to participate in this conference.

I feel quite fortunate that our proposal for a panel at the conference was accepted and am looking forward to participate in the conference together with UBC MAAPPS students Trevor Kennedy, Melanie Schweiger, and Christina Toepell. Our participation is possible through the financial support of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

If you’re curious about other sessions for the conference, please see the detailed program.

Here’s our plan for our panel:

May 4, 14:15-15:30h
“Journalists’ Liability Online and the Role of the Press”


Debates and opportunities to critically examine and discuss government policies are an essential feature of democracy. Cross-national evaluations of press freedom such as the Freedom House “Freedom of the Press” report try to measure legal protections for journalists’ contributions to such debates.  In many countries, publishers are regulated as the legally liable entity regarding comments made by employees of these publishers. But in several countries across Asia, journalists are personally liable in libel accusations. In the last two years this liability seems to have been extended from traditional media to the online space, for example in societies with extensive state censorship of the media like China and Thailand, but also in FOC members like Mongolia.

While this seems merely an extension of practice from traditional media to social media, the threat of libel lawsuits may well curtail independent reporting, especially in countries where electronic media are a vibrant sector and essential part of public debates.  

The proposed panel will compare and contrast practices regarding the role of publishers in shielding journalists across different countries with contributions from scholars, analysts and journalists themselves.

The idea for this panel was rooted in a discussion at Freedom House late last year where SE Asia analysts pointed to the arrival of laws extending the personal liability of journalists to the online space starting with Thailand but the spreading to other SE Asian countries. Given my interest in Mongolia, this meshed with my in-passing knowledge of the prosecution of Ts. Bat for critical remarks he had made about then-Minister of Transport A Gansukh, see also #FreeBat. The personal liability of journalists has long been cited as an obstacle to the development of the media in Mongolia leading to self-censorship and a lack of investigative and critical journalism that is so needed to evaluate proposed policies.

The other angle on this topic is that a vibrant press is clearly seen as an essential element in democratization as the media can serve a critical role as the “Fourth Estate”.

As we will discuss in the panel, even among FOC member countries there is a fair degree of variability in the extent to which journalists’ writing is protected in traditional media as well as online.

I hope that there will be some discussion of these issues at the panel as well and that there will be lively discussion online using #FOC15.

I even have delusions of a self-made mini press conference using Periscope, but we’ll see if that happens. If you’re curious about that, please follow me at @jdierkes

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots @jdierkes@sciences.social and tweets @jdierkes
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