Mongolia





Basic Data

Mongolia

Official Country Name: Mongolia
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 2,650,952
Language(s): Khalkha Mongol, Turkic, Russian
Literacy rate: 82.9%

Mongolia (Mongol Uls) has moved from being a largely agricultural and nomadic society, to being split between a nomadic and an urban population. One-third of all Mongolians reside in the capital city of Ulan Bator (Ulaanbaatar). Just larger than Alaska in size, 90 percent of its land is pasture or desert wasteland; 9 percent is forested; and 1 percent is arable. There is scant rain and large seasonal climate fluctuations occur.

Mongolia, with Soviet backing, gained its independence from China in 1921, but as of 1990 dropped its Soviet styled single-party state and began movements toward democratically oriented governance. Currently, 18 parties are active in the Mongolian political system. However, the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP)—the former party of Soviet rule—still has significant influence, including the support of current president Natsagiyin Bagabandi and a strong showing of 72 out of 76 seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections.

This has created some directional uncertainty concerning the political future of Mongolia. As with many countries experimenting with new systems of political governance, Mongolia's economic situation has been a struggle. While new avenues are being sought, there continues to be an inability to create and sustain a viable economy. Being landlocked and losing significant trading prospects with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they have been aggressively pursuing relationships with all countries, but have yet to find an economic niche that can provide any consistency and growth. Mongolia's precarious economic and still new political activities have lent themselves both positively and negatively to press and broadcast media situations.

Mongolian press began in 1920 under the Mongolian Communist Party (equivalent with the MPRP at the time) with Unen ( Truth )—similar to Soviet Pravda —being the oldest newspaper published in the country; and Dzaluuchuudyn Unen ( Young People's Truth ), founded by the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Youth League; and Ulaan Od ( Red Star ) founded by the Ministries of Defense and Public Security following respectively in 1924 and 1930.

During those years the government directly oversaw all publishing. However much has changed since then. In a May 22, 2001, press conference newly elected Bagabandi iterated that he would seek to ensure press freedom through legal guarantees. However, while a Law of Press Freedom passed August 28, 1998, and enacted January 1, 1999, exists it has yet to obtain the necessary guarantees to assure its full implementation. In fact, soon after the MPRP regained power, the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs closed three newspapers without legal authority. Further, while the 1998 law forbids state ownership or financing of media or of their organizations, the majority of radio and television stations are still state-owned and there continue to be problems in transferring this state-owned material to private hands. Government reticence also extends to allowing access to information.

The government, while taking no official actions against the media except in a couple of fairly justifiable cases, continues investigations into local media and press operations that—whether accurate or not—seem to these organizations negative and threatening.

As of a 1991 decree, The Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs is in charge of issuing licenses for all newspapers and can also confiscate them if newspapers break any ordinances. Additionally, the government has attempted to use moral rules and tax laws to keep tight rein on the "free" media. In many senses this has led to much self-censorship by the press. Even with these legal hurdles existing 1,150 newspapers were reported registered in 2001. With newspaper circulation essentially limited to Ulan Bator and only one-third of the country's 2.4 million people living there, this is a large figure. One factor in the high number of registered papers has to do with the fact that many of the papers are small circulation presses, some being literally one-person operations. There are only four dailies in Mongolian. Still, overall newspaper circulation stands on average at about 27 per 1,000 people.

Government has relinquished control of newsprint, but costs fluctuate dramatically due to shortages of paper and fuel supplies. Thus, the process of buying privately is prohibitive for many of the small presses. Also hindering newspapers is the fact that 90 percent of the advertising market is obtained by government television and radio leaving the press with little to exploit for income. Therefore, they are primarily dependent on circulation sales for income, but this presents an extra challenge in a country with per capita income of about $400 U.S. dollars per year. While there is lack of capital working against the press, one favorable aspect of the population is an average 97 percent literacy rate for both males and females. According to a 1998 poll more than 68 percent of Mongolians favor newspapers as their favorite form of media—one of the highest percentages in the world.

Dailies include: Odiriyn Sonin ( Daily News ; independent; succeeded state paper Ardyn Erh ; founded 1990), Onoodor (independent; largest newspaper with regular 12-page issues and advertisements; founded 1996), Zuuny Medee (independent; succeeded state paper Zasigyn Gazryn Medee ), Mongolia This Week (independent; first and only daily in English), and Unen ( Truth ; organ of the MPRP). Circulation figures are still generally not reported and at least one editor suggested this is one major problem that needs to be resolved in order to begin facilitating a freer press. However, before their name transition Onoodor and Zuuny Medee were among the largest circulations. An interesting variation from some of the other publications available is Ger Magazine (published online with guidance from the United Nations Development Program, UNDP), which is concerned with Mongolian youth in cultural transition. The name of the magazine is meant to be ironic because a ger is the Mongolian word for yurt—a yurt being traditional nomadic housing—but the magazine is about urbanization and globalization of Mongolian youth.

Broadcast media runs in a similar vein with the press. Private radio and television stations exist alongside state-owned operations, but lack of funding and lack of general infrastructure tend to limit the capacity for private ventures (this is the downside of the media law not allowing the government to fund media). What privatization has occurred is primarily limited to Ulan Bator with others only having access to state television and radio for news and a few private stations that primarily play music (music is cheaper than live programming). However, according to the International Journalists' Network, even state-owned television and radio stations are now required to be run as a "self-funding national public broadcasting system." This is still much more the ideal than the actual.

One state-owned radio broadcast station, The Voice of Mongolia, began in 1965, is operated by Mongolian Radio and Television. It broadcasts eight hours a day in Mongolian, English, Chinese and Russian, and remains the sole international radio broadcasting station for the government of Mongolia. Overall, 2001 estimates suggest there are seven AM, nine FM, and four short-wave radio broadcast stations in the country. They broadcast to 155,900 radios (according to 1999 estimates).

Mongolteleviz is the state-owned television station under Mongolian Radio and Television and broadcasts nationwide. Other private stations include Eagle (Bürged) TV, MN Channel 25, and UBSTV. As of 1999, there were four television broadcast stations with 18 provincial repeaters and numerous low power repeaters. They broadcast to 168,800 televisions—approximately 50 to 60 percent of households possessing a television. Mont-same is Mongolia's state-owned news agency.

The Internet is a relatively new medium for Mongolia with its first connection established in 1995, but it is up and coming. There is no direct infringement by the government concerning private Internet use by citizens. As of 2001 there were five Internet service providers in the country and between 10,000 and 15,000 subscribers. The United Nations Volunteers and United Nations Development Programme are currently running a major program in partnership with the Open Society Institute-Mongolia and with funding from the government of Japan to increase ICT access and utilization.

There is respect for the academy in Mongolia and journalistic training can be gained there. Perhaps one of the most prescient statements offered about Mongolia in recent years comes from the head of DataCom and board member of the Open Society Institute-Mongolia. D. Enkhbat says, "Mongolia cannot solve the task of creating [an] open society without creating mechanisms for the free flow of information."

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Clint B. Thomas Baldwin



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