History and Structure – an Overview of the Media Market
In the early 1990ies Mongolia’s media market went, almost overnight, from a purely state owned entity to a free market economy. With privatization of the economy a gold rush started, also in the media market.
At the end of 2015 there were a total of 485 media outlets including 98 websites, according to the Mongolian Press Institute’s annual statistical book Mongolian Media Today.
There are 101 active newspapers, among them 11 daily newspapers, 29 weekly, 36 bi-weekly and 17 monthly newspapers. In addition 86 magazines are published weekly to quarterly.
69 radio stations are in operation. Among them 3 national radio stations, 5 regional stations, 25 radio stations in the capital Ulaanbaatar and 36 local radio stations.
The number of TV station totals 131. Of these, 50 television stations broadcast their programs across the country. There are 16 national television stations registered, 54 Ulaanbaatar television stations and 61 local television stations.
In addition, there are 98 internet news portals in operation.
66 Internet Service Providers are in the market, the biggest ones being Univision, Sky Net, Mobi Net.
In fact, Mongolia has NO news agency, though Montsame Agency calls itself a news agency. The still state owned company was under socialist rule the only official source of information. Now, Montsame Agency publishes 6 weekly print newspapers in foreign languages like English, Russian, Mandarin and Japanese. In addition, they have some subscribers, mostly online media, for their news. (See Montsame Agency)
Not having a professional news agency “makes local journalism very expensive for all media”, comments one chief-editor.
The newspaper distribution market is monopolized by the Mongol Post Company, a government-owned enterprise. The Mongol Post signed a contract with the Mongolian Newspaper Association and the Association of Daily Newspapers for a total of 400 million MNT (US$200k) per year. Some private companies such as Ulaanbaatar Post, Skypost and Tugeemel Shuurkhai Post also provide subscription and delivery services.
In 2016 there are 8 companies with multiple media ownership:
Mongol Mass Media Group: 6 outlets. Five TV Stations, one news website
Mass Agency: 6 outlets. Two TV stations, two magazines, one radio station, one news website
Mongol News Group: 5 outlets. Three newspapers, one TV station, one news website
Media Group: 5 outlets. Two magazines, one TV station, one radio station, one news website
Seruuleg Construction Co Ltd: 4 media outlets. Two newspapers, one TV station, one radio station
Three more have a particular background but no MOM top ten media:
Egel Co Ltd: Аs of December 2015, the company had 18 newspapers distributed in the provinces and addressing rural people. Their combined annual sales volume was 482.400 copies. As of November 2016 the company claims that since January 2016 it does not own the rural newspapers any more.
MMJ Co Ltd: Six tabloid newspapers.
Montsame Agency: Six weekly newspapers in foreign languages like English, Russian, Mandarin and Japanese. In addition the state owned company calls itself a news agency but does not function like a general news agency.
There are no in-depth Media Audience Surveys available except for the TV market. In 2014, the Press Institute stopped its regular audience surveys due to a lack of funding. Since 2011, the private company Maxima LLC is monitoring the television market and sells the reports. MOM is using those and the facts and figures of the Press Institutes annual report.
State advertising without any rules
Advertising is the main financial resource for media. But figures, how much private companies invest in media advertisement are only available for the TV market: The amount of paid television advertising in Mongolia was about 12 Million US-Dollar in 2015, as cited by the private survey company Maxima LLC. Main private investors in advertising are mobile operators and food production companies.
Advertisements from the government and other public bodies are certainly a very important source of revenue for media. However, there are no facts and figures publicly available.
In 2012, the NGO Globe International Center (GIC) sent ten requests to government agencies for information on public funding allocated to media outlets. Eight agencies responded. In 2012 alone, the parliament, the Office of the President and the government (including the ten government agencies) allocated a combined total of MNT 4.1 billion (US$2.9 million) to advertising in the media. According to the Ministry of Finance, parliament’s expenditure was almost MNT 3 billion (US$1.7 million) while the government’s was MNT 758 million (US$380k). According to the Ulaanbaatar city administration’s response to the GIC request, they alone spent MNT 482 million (US$242k) on advertising.
According to the GIC survey, 76 Public agencies do not have any rules governing usage of public funding, and decisions are made mainly by orders of the managers. When preparing their annual advertisement plans, public agencies establish a contract with media outlets, which some sources have claimed obliges them to abstain from critical or negative news coverage about the respective agency. This encourages “paid-for journalism”, thereby distorting the professional standards of media. The selection of media outlets to receive government advertisement revenues is made without open bidding or public tenders.
Public communication specialists at government organizations state that they use their ‘common sense’ to judge which media outlet might be ‘the biggest one” or choose the cheapest one, or the executive management simply orders to use the media outlet of his/her friend or affiliated person.
So one has to conclude that, even though there are no legal grounds for direct state interference into editorial decision making, government organizations use advertisement distribution as a tool to influence media content by concluding “contracts of collaboration” to restrict criticism or negative coverage. (See Context Law)
In addition, the CRC’s regulation on Broadcast Services, which sets a limit of 15 minutes of advertisements per hour for commercial television, is regularly violated. A Media audience report by the Press Institute in 2013 states that during a 60-100 minute highly rated programme on commercial television advertising can range from 30 to 40 minutes.
Private vs. Public mass media
72 % of Mongolian media outlets are private entities – but this figure includes media owned by NGOs and special interest organisations that distribute their publications mostly for free to their members, but also sell a small portion, so they were included in the statistics of the yearbook Mongolian Media Today by the Press Institute.
In particular, 90 % of TV stations are privately owned. Accordingly, the State owns 8 % of Mongolian newspapers, 13 % of magazines published, 12 % of radio stations and 4 % of TV stations – the latter two being the stations of the Public Service Broadcaster.
In terms of popularity the flood of private tabloid newspapers and TV stations focusing on pure entertainment were not taken into account for the MOM. Among the media with substantial news coverage the most popular daily newspapers, measured by circulation, are Udriin Sonin (11.000 per issue) and Unoodor (7.000 per issue). There is no reliable measurement for rating the popularity of internet news media, the Press Institute ranked the top ten based on qualitative verbal opinion polls. Internet users access news websites mostly through social media with Facebook being the most popular. The most popular TV and radio stations are still the public service broadcasters MNB.
Strong political influence on the Public Service Broadcaster
Although the 1998 Media Law already states that the state should not own media, the process of dismantling state monopoly in the broadcasting sector began only in 2005 with the Law on Public Service Radio and Television. It transformed the formerly state run national radio and television into public service entities and restricts advertisement revenues for the Mongolian National Broadcaster MNB to provide competition space for commercial televisions.
MNB includes: One national and two cable television channels. Two national, one FM and one international radio station. It is supported by the state through an annual subsidy which was MNT 3, 9 billion (US$2, 2 million) in 2015. In addition each household in Ulaanbaatar pays 1.100 MNT (50 US cents) per month and rural households pay 600 - 800 MNT per month.
The PSB Law does not specify how the amount of the annual state subsidy should be determined. It merely states that the highest governing body, the National Council, shall discuss the annual budget and propose projected amounts of funding for inclusion in the state budget. The Law also fails to specify how the amount charged for license fees for public service broadcasting shall be determined, except for the general provision that “the amount shall be determined by the government based on the suggestion of the National Council.”
Editorial independence is legally guaranteed for the Mongolian National Public Broadcaster (MNB) by the PSB Law. But the NGO Globe International Center reports: “Shortly after the appointment of the first National Council in 2006, the employees of the MNB formed a Temporary Committee and began to protest against the Council, criticizing it for interfering to promote certain political interests and illegally appointing the MNB management and appealing for the MNB’s independence. The protests escalated from public letters to sit-ins but the appeals were ignored.”
Up to today, political influence on PSB operations is still strong, as can be seen from the politically influenced appointments of the PSB Governing Board members and its senior management. (See Context Law)
In theory the PSB Law states that the highest governing body of the MNB, the National Council, consists of 15 members appointed for a single six-year term. All members are supposed to be chosen from a roster proposed by CSOs and then confirmed by the president (four members), the government (four members) and the parliament (seven members).
But a 2016 UNESCO report concludes: “The reality, however, is reportedly rather different. The only time candidates recommended by the CSOs have been partly taken into account was during the first round of nominations for election to the Council in -2006, when seven out of 15 candidates were considered. Since then, the recommendations of CSOs have either been completely ignored or the candidates have been handpicked by executive or parliamentary bodies without a transparent and participatory consultation mechanism. Given that the ultimate approval is made by political entities, the entire appointment process is heavily influenced by political interests and priorities.”
Traditional vs. digital media outlets
According to the public opinion survey of the Press Institute, television is still the most popular media in both urban and rural areas. Print media and radio are in decline. Regarding circulation, the number of traditional newspaper subscribers is decreasing – in line with world trends – also due to the fact that many newspapers can now be accessed online. 45 % of newspapers have a website, 48 % a Facebook account and 19 % a Twitter account. Furthermore, the website www.sonin.mn makes 34 newspapers available free of charge.
The internet is a more popular media in the capital Ulaanbaatar and is gaining popularity fast, also in the countryside. This is underlined by the media penetration of households: There are 196 computers per 1000 inhabitants whereas only 87 out of 1000 people have a telephone landline. But there are 5, 5 Million mobile phones in use in the country – almost double the size of the population. Thus, the penetration rate of mobile phone users in Mongolia is higher than the world average.
The impacts of mobile phones and the internet cannot be underestimated in this huge country with previously huge black holes of communication – now, large parts of Mongolia that were for centuries more or less disconnected from the outside world are part of the global village.
The government allocates about US$1.2 million annually to support satellite distribution for ten channels in order to provide quality and sustainable services to rural populations. The service is operated by the private company DDish, which holds a monopoly on satellite broadcasting in Mongolia.
Press Institute of Mongolia, Mongolian Media Today, 2016, Ulaanbaatar
Press Institute of Mongolia, Mongolian Nationwide Audience Survey, 2015, Ulaanbaatar
Globeinter (mongolian language)
Mongolian Statistical Yearbook 2015, Main Indicators of telecommunication sector, National Registration and Statistics Office
UNESCO Bejing, Assessment of Media Development in Mongolia, 2016
Annual report of the MNB, Budget 2015
Government Resolution No 119, 2008