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Educating the world on media law

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Stationed in South Korea during the mid-1960s, Daniel Byron, then a captain in the U.S. Army, became curious about Mongolia as he listened to the daily weather forecast for that country on AFKN radio.

To his memory of the country reporting extremely cold temperatures, Byron will soon be able to add fresh stories of the weather, the people and the legal system.

The partner at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP is preparing to visit Mongolia to help improve the rights of free speech and free press. He will spend all of September in and around the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, assisting and educating defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, journalists and other advocates about media law.
 

il-dan-byron03-15col.jpg Daniel Byron (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“Everything I’ve heard tells me Mongolia wants to open up and be more democratic in its attitude and give more attention to free speech and free press,” he said. “But, the devil is in the details.”

Byron will be going as part of the International Senior Lawyers Project, a nonprofit that partners with clients around the world and dispatches attorneys with extensive legal experience to help with matters regarding the law.

The attorneys are not sent to provide the answers, said Andra Moss, ISLP director of volunteers and communications. Their purpose is to help the clients find a path to a solution.

The ISLP has a very strong commitment to the rule of law, Moss said. It advocates for a judicial system and fairness of process that people can trust. Attorneys volunteer not so much because they want to travel but rather because they want to share the knowledge they have acquired from spending their careers in the legal profession.

Overseas the lawyers are given housing and connected to the organizations with whom they will be working, but the volunteers are responsible for the details of their daily living, like finding meals, Moss said. And that, like many aspects, is a different experience than in the United States. An attorney who has recently returned from Mongolia reported that coffee is not always available, traffic signals are routinely ignored, and the alcoholic drink of choice is fermented camel’s milk.

In the 11 years that ISLP has sent lawyers to 63 faraway places, no one has ever returned saying they were disappointed they volunteered, Moss said.

Byron still talks excitedly about his first ISLP trip that sent him to West Africa for two months in 2007. Writing of his experience for the just-published book, “Exporting the Matrix: the Campaign to Reform Media Laws Abroad,” Bryon recounted that the nonprofit’s request for a senior media attorney not only matched his experience but also filled his desire to make a positive difference in emerging democracies.

His eagerness to volunteer in West Africa came from the strong belief that also drives his desire to work in Mongolia. Specifically, he maintains that the hallmark of a vibrant democracy is giving the citizens the right to say and print the truth without fear of government retaliation.

“The first thing you’ll notice over the many years is once you control the press and stop free speech, totalitarian government is easy,” Byron said. “The view from the top down is if you can cause a country to have free press and free speech without fear of the government, then you’re going to have a robust democracy.”

Mongolia is a country struggling with media rights, according to Globe International, a non-governmental organization that requested help from ISLP. Criminal libel cases are common and between 70 and 85 percent of the time, the journalists are found guilty even when the information they distributed was not false or inaccurate. The reporters convicted of criminal libel face the possibility of stiff fines that they have to pay themselves and prison.

Globe International states that defamation charges are being used to harass journalists and encourage self-censorship.

Byron’s task includes helping the lawyers who are defending these journalists. He will offer advice, analyze the evidence and explore alternative remedies to the cases . In addition, he will hold a workshop for judges and prosecutors about media law.

Prior to leaving, he is reviewing a case he may help defend that has been brought against a newspaper owner who is, incidentally, also one of the founders of Globe International. It is a tangled financial mess that in the United States would be a simple debt collection, but in Mongolia it has become a criminal case that could land the owner in jail for 15 to 20 years.

From his experience in West Africa, Byron has learned that change can be incremental but change can happen.

During his 2007 trip, Byron worked on a case of a newspaper editor who had been pulled from his desk chair and arrested by armed guards for reprinting a BBC article that was critical of the country’s leader. The editor has not been seen or heard from since, leading his family to believe he has been killed.

Byron aided the defense counsel in obtaining a judgment of $100,000 in U.S. dollars for the family and helped successfully petition the United Nations to request the government reveal where the editor is and, if he is still alive, return him to his family.

To date, the family has received neither restitution nor an account of what happened.

However, recently, another reporter was taken into custody for criticizing the government, but he was not tortured and was released unharmed.

“You don’t always know what kind of difference you might make,” Byron said. “For me, trying is the most important thing. I hope I make some modicum of difference in Mongolia. We’ll see.”•

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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