Despite a small population, Mongolia has a vast media landscape. But consumers can get lost, says journalist Duuya Baatar. The NEST Center aims for more clarity with relevant national coverage and training.
Duuya Baatar (right), member of the NEST Center for Journalism Innovation and Development in Mongolia
As remote as Mongolia may appear on a map, or is portrayed in media outside the country, the slightly more than three million citizens who live there have an astonishingly robust buffet of news sources to choose from. The media industry there is, according to journalist Dulamkhorloo Baatar, "hustling and bustling" with approximately one media platform per 6,000 consumers.
But as encouraging as this is – a flourishing media is critical to democracy – surveys show that Mongolians are overwhelmed with the selection, often can't find what they need and know little of how a publication or news outlet is funded.
"There is a huge disconnect between the media industry and the audience here," said Duuya. "Most media are funded by politicians and business organizations and the funding is not transparent, which leaves the audience with insufficient information."
Duuya has spent years in Mongolia both working in journalism and watching it. From that vantage point, she is concerned that Mongolia is poorly covered and that both domestic and foreign media fail to serve Mongolians. As a buffer between Russia and China, moreover, Mongolia is a strategic nation rich in mineral resources, which alone commands greater interest outside its borders.
Despite the privilege of studying abroad, Duuya returned to Mongolia to work and is committed to the country's media development. While working for Bloomberg News, she noted that even there, Mongolian stereotypes influenced how reporters and editors approached subjects.
"We have a vibrant, young population, a booming technology center and investment opportunities," she said. "There is a lot to the country that I think outsiders would be interested in."
Duuya's views reflect a youthful dream of working as a reporter and years doing so. Today, they intersect with the NEST Center for Journalism Innovation and Development, a DW Akademie partner that offers media training and consulting around the country, and, since 2020, Duuya has contributed to both.
"Despite the NEST Center's smartness and creativity, there are severe obstacles to their business development, as well as for other startup news outlets," said Patrick Benning, DW Akademie's program director for Mongolia. "There are restrictions on micro-payment solutions which remain legally banned in Mongolia. The positive reasoning behind this is the prevention of money laundering." But, he added, it can also hinder legitimate business development.
Duuya's work – and that of the Center – focus on so-called 'niche audiences,' delivering useful news to them and helping media stay financially strongin the process. According to one report, Mongolia's media have limited cash flow and "struggle with paying salaries, let alone investment in better training for their employees. The net result is that the media industry suffers from low credibility and relevance. News media delivers low value to its users, making reader-supported models incredibly challenging."
"We're trying to find a balance," said Duuya, "between finding enough people to fund a [media] operation and small enough that your editorial policy can serve their niche needs."
At the same time, independent Mongolian media and its consumers – like everywhere in the world – are contending with disinformation. At the NEST Center, Duuya runs the Mongolian fact-checking center, a web-based operation that counters online misinformation.
The NEST Center, said Duuya, has a policy to not only respond to misleading information but also be proactive in teaching media literacy and how to verify information regardless of culture or age.
In teaching media literacy to an elderly population, she said, "we use bigger fonts and we are working with a celebrity who has a strong following of (older) age groups. We use language that is easily understandable.
"Even the slogan of the campaign was carefully designed," she continued. "It is a derived version of a Mongolian traditional saying: 'Cut once after measuring seven times.' This we adapted to say, 'Check seven times before sharing once.'"
DW Akademie recently launched Fact Check Mongolia, a program that will use Truly Media to help verify information. With elections coming up in 2020 and 2021, journalist Tamir Tsolmonbaatar explains why it is needed.