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The Media Market

Mongolia’s media market is booming so wildly that a disparity is obvious at first sight: for a market of three million people there are close to 500 media outlets. More than a hint, that media ownership is not necessarily seen as a money making machine, but rather serves other interests.

Generally, financial information on media businesses is not available to the public. Nevertheless, it seems a safe guess that most Mongolian media outlets are unprofitable and dependent on their owners’ sponsorship. In turn, it can be assumed that the owners do not engage in media businesses for profits but rather as a tool to articulate their political preferences and to protect their economic interests.

In general, there is a particular group with vested interests in the economy: The vast majority of Mongolian politicians own private business companies, as an amazing info graphic shows that was made out of information published by the “Independent Authority Against Corruption” reveals. (See Context Politics) It is reasonable to assume that the media market belongs to their business targets – however, the official graphic is not clear on this and in general it is rather difficult to obtain information on media ownership in Mongolia.

For sure, media ownership is attractive in this country with extensive mineral deposits in high demand on global markets: copper, coal, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, and gold. But recently, the going gets tough – for the media as the economy as such. “This country went from boom to economic nightmare in 5 years”, reports CNN television in August 2016: Just five years ago, Mongolia's economy grew by 17%. Now, the country is facing a debt crisis and possible default.

“The dire situation is a sharp reversal of fortune for Mongolia, which was once the toast of foreign investors. The country is blessed with abundant natural resources, and has attracted billions in mining investment. But slumping prices have put an end to the commodities gold rush. Meanwhile, demand from China - which buys more than three quarters of Mongolia's exports - has dried up because of its own economic slowdown.”

Indeed, the Mongolian economy depends on mining and cashmere – both contributing to grave environmental problems. The mines contaminate the scarce water resources, the burning of soft coal coupled with hundreds of factories in Ulaanbaatar results in severe air pollution and the far too many cashmere goats in the steppes are accelerating desertification by not simply eating grass, but ripping it out with the roots. In addition, efforts to increase grain and hay production by plowing up more virgin land have increased soil erosion from wind and rain. 

Still, mining contributes a third to Mongolia’s national income and 89 % of annual exports. In addition the country is the world's second biggest producer of raw cashmere. Not least, tourism contributes some 5 per cent to the national income.  

A big market: influencing public opinion

With Mongolia’s abundant natural beauties and riches a lot is at stage. And, naturally, economic fights are always political fights – with both parties fighting to influence public opinion. So in the early 1990ies the media market went, almost overnight, from a purely state owned entity to a free market economy. With privatization a gold rush started, also in the media market.

At the end of 2015 there were a total of 485 media outlets, according to the Press Institute’s annual statistical book “Mongolian Media Today”. In detail, there are 101 newspapers, 69 radio stations, 131 TV stations and 98 internet news portals in operation. (See Context Media Market)

In Mongolia, as everywhere else, business has many motives to own media and/or to buy journalists. From the beginning of democratization and privatization, the biggest apple of discord between economic interests, politics and the media erupted frequently: Corruption.

“The new economy was set up from scratch, the brainchild of a 26-year-old economics whiz named Zoljargal. His voucher system entitled each Mongolian to buy stocks from a new Stock Exchange at Ulaanbaatar’s central square. The savviest Mongols went around buying other people’s vouchers, gathering enough to buy off whole companies. But not all went smoothly. Many were accused of corruption, including Zoljargal’s older brother, who went to jail for allegedly losing Mongolia’s gold reserves (US$ 150 Million) while gambling in foreign stock markets”, reports the American journalist Michael Kohn, who worked at the time for the still state owned Mongol Messenger. Eventually, the most noteworthy part of this account seems to be that Zoljargal’s brother went to jail. Without doubt an achievement of the public outcry triggered by media reports. 

In particular in the mining sector there is a lot to report about and rather seldom it is good news. In a 2015 study the Open Society Forum, noteworthy in cooperation with the Ministry of Mining of Mongolia, assessed the governance performance of nine state-owned and partially state-owned mining companies. “The general outcome of our survey reveals that all the companies except Oyu Tolgoi LLC performed poorly in their corporate governance assessment”. 

The notorious copper mine Oyu Tolgoi also made headlines in 2011, when RSF protested this case: “Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the arrest of two journalists, Gantumut Uyanga and her husband Baviya Baatarkhuyag, after they criticised nature, environment and tourism minister Luimed Gansukh in the daily Udriin Sonin for moving with his family into a million-dollar house soon after the government signed an agreement with a Canadian firm, Ivanohe Mines, to mine copper and gold at Oyu Tolgoi. Both journalists were freed a few hours later. The Ulaanbaatar court upheld on 5 May the dismissal by the Sukhbaatar court on 24 March of a libel suit brought by the minister against Uyanga.”

Big business interests were also assumed to be looming in the back of the big political crisis in 1998 when “the father of democracy” Sanjaasürengjin Zorig was killed. As Minister of Infrastructure Zorig managed several big money deals, among them the giant Erdenet copper mine. Furthermore, he was designated to replace his party fellow Prime Minister Ts. Elbegdorj, who was in big trouble for allowing the merger of the state-owned Reconstruction Bank and the private Golomt Bank, owned by members of the Democratic Party. Again, the news of the merger led to public outrage and the resignation of the Elbegdorj government.

His successor as Prime Minister, Narantsatsralt, served for only seven month; then he was accused of secretly setting up the Erdenet copper mine for a cheap sell off to the Russians. (See Context Politics and Big Business & Washed News)

Media ownership transparency leaves much to be desired    

Meanwhile, business interests to disguise media ownership seem to be pretty successful. Transparency obligations for media owners are deficient. Print media outlets need to be registered, but the owner of the outlet, his shares in the company or media market are not relevant for the registration. Also online news media need to be registered with the government appointed regulatory body CRC, but there are no ownership disclosure requirements for these media.

Only for TV and radio stations the CRC demands transparency of license owners. However, the information is only published on the page for license holders (and not on the page designed for citizens) and it requires certain efforts to find ownership information from the website. In addition, the information is often incomplete and/or outdated. But as of October 2016 the CRC, though entitled to do so, did not take any measures regarding non-fulfilment of ownership disclosure requirements. Not least, in Mongolia there are no legal regulations to prevent media concentration and monopolies. (See Context Law)

In the absence of legal obligations very few companies publish media ownership voluntarily. If so, information can be confusing. For example Bloomberg TV, which is not included in MOM Top Media because of its insignificance in audience share, though it is important for the mighty business community in Mongolia: The National News Corporation established in 2011 launched in 2012 the Bloomberg TV Mongolia and in 2014 the daily newspaper Government News. The company’s website also says that it owns the Mongolian Branch of the world’s leading outdoor advertisement company, the JCDecaux Mongolia. On the other hand, the Bloomberg website states that the Bloomberg TV Mongolia operates as a subsidiary of TDB Media LLC, one of the largest commercial banks of Mongolia. (See Context Law)

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