It’s all about communication – in Mongolia just as much as everywhere else. But apart from being exceptionally beautiful the country features quite some characteristics that make Mongolia kind of unique: nowadays, only 3 Million people live on 1, 5 Million square kilometers, making Mongolia the most scarcely populated country on earth.
The people’s heritage is very homogenous: 95 % of the population is ethnically Mongolian and 4 % are ethnic Kazakhs. All of them speak Mongolian, with the exception of few Kazakhs living in particularly isolated places in the far West. At the same time, almost all Mongolians can read and write: the literacy rate is 98, 2 %.
Also, there is hardly any religious divide or fight in Mongolia: After 70 years of forceful atheist socialist policies 30 % of Mongolians define themselves Non-religious. 40 % are Tibetan Buddhist and 20 % traditional Shamanists - though the traditionally strong religious believes were diminished by the brutal killing of Buddhist monks, Lamas and Shamans and the destruction of almost all monasteries in the early years of socialist rule. With the democratic constitution, Buddhism is now retrieving and monasteries are being rebuilt. There are about 170 active Buddhist monasteries with some 5000 Lamas and monks.
Nowadays, city people mostly live an urban life style with rather less religious practices apart from the Buddhist worship shrine in almost every household and office. Reportedly, there are quite strong attempts of western missionaries in Mongolia, resulting in 6 % of the population defining themselves as Christians. The 4 % Muslims, reflecting the Kazakh population, have their places of worship. Also in the capital Ulan Baataar there are several mosques, and so far there are no reports of incidences of religious intolerance.
By 2015 the urban population has grown to 69 %. The capital Ulaanbaatar, built for some 600 000 people, houses now more than 1, 3 million.
With the remaining 31 % rural population land flight is a serious problem – caused least by the harsh living conditions in the country side with extreme winters (very cold and very long) and extreme summers (very hot and very short). Far more, the reasons for abandoning the nomadic life style and flogging to the cities are environmental destruction and overgrazing. There are too many herds with too many sheep, goats, horses and camels eating up the delicate grass in the steppes. Furthermore, the environmental destruction is accelerated by extensive mining using too much precious water and polluting the scarce rivers and lakes. (See Context Economy)
Of course, all these subjects are important issues for professional media to fuel public debate – but, unfortunately, media do not enjoy the best reputation in society.
Journalistic culture – a lack of trust and too much “Washed News”
The lack of trust in media is significant: The Mongolian National Public Service Television and Radio enjoy the highest credibility – but not quite overwhelming with 44 % and 25 % believing “very much” and 35 % and 26 % believing “sometimes” their news. Daily newspapers lack far behind: only 10 % trust them very much and 30 % believe them sometimes. Still worse for online news media: only 5 % of users “believe very much” in them and 32 % trust them sometimes, according to a 2015 study by the Press Institute of Mongolia.
Interesting details: Rural citizens believe more in Public Service TV – 54% of them said they believe in MNB very much, compared to 34 % in Ulaanbaatar. And, in general, people older than 55 tend to believe more in media. The highest credibility among older people and herders in rural areas is enjoyed by the National Public Service Radio. The low credibility of daily newspapers is higher among people of age 35 and older, with higher education.
Naturally, with the new media freedom new professional standards did not come automatically. The media handling of the political crisis in 1998 when “the father of democracy”, Zorig, was killed, was criticised by the American journalist Michael Kohn: “The local media was filled with rumor, innuendo and character assassination”. And Eila Romo-Murphy acknowledges in her PhD “The historical development of the Mongolian media landscape”: “There has been criticism of the overall quality of television programming, and in particular the non-existence of investigative journalism”.
One reason for the lacking quality of media was given by Munkhmandakh Myagmar in her dissertation “Development of Media Culture in Mongolia since 1921”. The director of the Press Institute of Mongolia (PIM), MOMs local partner organization, identifies “the Soviet authoritarian theory, which determines that journalism is in service for the state and the leading party, as playing the key role in Mongolian media.”
This is underlined by studies on the "Soviet media theory" which included qualities like “Media should serve the interests of and be in control of the working class”, and “Society has right to use censorship and other legal measures to prevent, or punish after the event of an anti-societal publication” and in general: “Media should provide a complete and objective view of society and the world, according to Marxist-Leninist principles”. Romo-Murphy concludes: “Media is seen as a servant to society, helping society to reach its goals. Society is a kind of "superego" for the media. In this submissive and servant role of media, the Soviet media theory calls for the media to be objective and neutral.” For almost 70 years Mongolian journalists were trained – and treated – accordingly.
Overworked and underpaid journalists
Also nowadays, the treatment of journalists by the authorities is questionable. Myagmar’s PhD came to the conclusion that “Mongolia’s leadership sees media’s task is to make government policies known”. But at the same time, officials often deny journalists – and there with the public – access to information.
On the other side of the coin, regarding self-regulation of the media, a UNESCO study “revealed a deficiency in maintaining a widely accepted code of conduct”. Although some media have individual codes, “breaches are common and they are rarely investigated and sanctions not applied”.
Not least, journalists are economically under pressure. Most Mongolian journalists are badly paid. Although 57 % of media employees working as journalists, editors and reporters have an educational background in journalism and almost all have a university degree, they earn on average a mere 780 0000 Mongolian tugrik per month, which equals some 320 Euro, and is comparable to a middle class public servant salary. Whereas a lot of public servants have other means to supplement their income, the meager salaries of journalists’ open doors for “paid content”, or, as Mongolians say, “Washed News”. (See “Big Business & Washed News”)
Since quite some years, civil society associations seek to improve the lack of professional standards and ethics through training courses.
UNESCO, Mongolia - Key Data: Society, (n.d.)
Mongolian Statistical Yearbook 2015, National Registration and Statistics Office
National Statistics Office Mongolia (english)
National Statistics Office Mongolia (mongolian language)
Romo-Murphy, Eila, The historical development of the Mongolian media landscape, PhD, Finland 2010
Dr. Munkhmandakh Myagmar, “Unterhaltungsanspruch im Wandel. Entwicklung der Medienkultur in der Mongolei seit 1921”, Dissertation Universität Leipzig, 1998
Michal Kohn, Dateline Mongolia – An American Journalist in Nomad’s Land, RDR Books, USA, 2007
Mongolian Media Today, Press Institute of Mongolia, 2016, Ulaanbaatar
Public awareness and perceptions about Media Council, Press Institute of Mongolia 2015 (Mongolian language)
UNESCO Bejing, Assessment of Media Development in Mongolia, 2016