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. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.