Launched in 1999 towards the end of my two-year assignment in Mongolia, this book is a unique resource for a developing country: a one-stop compilation of journalism chronicling the ups and downs of life in a country where the political and economic system has been turned on its head. You can download an edited selection of the book from Google Books here: In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999.
Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) – Mongolian newsstands are bursting at the seams. But while the content of the country’s publications is varied, their form is not. Newsprint rules this country’s publishing industry. The few glossy magazines for sale are imports from Russia.
When the democratic revolution unleashed the tide of free expression in the early 1990s, a flood of newspapers poured forth. It made sense. The cheap-and-cheerful technology of newsprint is low-tech, accessible and inexpensive. Suddenly everyone could be a publisher.
But Mongolia’s increasingly sophisticated media landscape is about to go “glossy”. Tomorrow (September 9) sees the launch of Ger (Home), Mongolia’s first on-line magazine. A bilingual quarterly funded by the United Nations, it combines entertainment – articles on the changing sexual attitudes of young Mongolians and the country’s vibrant pop scene – with information on the work of the UN and other NGOs in Mongolia.
“We want something that will tell the stories of Mongolians and their experiences over the last eight years – both to Mongolians and to the rest of the world,” says David South, communications coordinator at the United Nations Development Programme.
This month also brings the premiere issue of Tusgal (Strike), billed as the first full-colour, general-interest magazine in the new Mongolia. Published by Mongol News Company – the privately owned media group whose stable of publications includes the daily newspaper Onoodor and The UB Post – it offers a lively mix of sport, culture and celebrity articles, also aimed primarily at the young.
These two publications are just the top of the stack. Mongolia’s two best-known printing houses, Admon and Interpress, are said to be working on titles of their own.
Mongolia’s quick-to-learn capitalists see a gap – and they want to fill it.
“In Mongolia there are many newspapers, but no world-class magazines,” says Tusgal’s editor-in-chief, Do. Tsendjav. “On the streets you can see a lot of publications that aren’t exactly magazines but you can’t call newspapers, either – newspapers that appear every 10 days or two weeks.
“We want to fill this space. We want to produce the first colour magazine that will reach world standards, something close to Time or Newsweek.”
“There’s an enormous thirst for quality journalism, quality publications that are interesting to look at, top photojournalism – all the things newspapers don’t cover,” adds South.
“We’ve seen newspapers moving to more colour, more photographs, and that shows a desire for quality.”
That quality comes at a price. Tusgal, with 70 colour pages, will sell for between Tg 1500 and Tg 2000 – not much cheaper than an American publication like Time, and too expensive for many Mongolians.
With only 1000 Internet subscribers in Mongolia, Ger has an even smaller market within the country – though South is quick to point out, the UN has established public-access Internet centres in Ulaanbaatar and several aimags.
And he says a print version is planned to follow.
“Distribution is the big problem right now,” he says.
“We have to see how we can organize distribution to reach the whole country. I know more magazines will be launched soon in Mongolia, and hope a distribution network may grow out of that.”
The editors know Mongolia’s magazine market and magazine technology are in their infancy. Although companies like Admon and Interpress get more sophisticated equipment by the month, the capacity to produce quality publications is still limited – the first issue of Tusgal has been printed outside Mongolia.
Human resources need to develop as well, Tsendjav admits.
“To produce a monthly magazine you need highly qualified journalists. We don’t have that right now. We’re still seeking them out.”
But he is confident this will change – and quickly, too, if the pace of development in the past eight years is anything to go by.
“During socialism, Mongolia had many magazines, but it all stopped after 1990,” notes Tsendjav. “It was a question of economics.
“At first we don’t think we can earn money from this. If you want to make money you have to wait two or three years. So what we are aiming for at first is to build a readership.
“I think in two or three years, living standards will improve. People will have more money to spend on things like magazines. But we don’t want to wait for people to get enough money. We want to be the first, so people will develop an interest.
“There will be competition. Nowadays a lot of business-people understand the importance of the media. I welcome competition. It’ll make us work harder. It’s good for everybody.”
In 1998 Der Spiegel’s “Kommunikation total” issue profiled the global connectivity revolution underway and being accelerated by the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It chose my picture of a satellite dish and a ger in the Gobi Desert to symbolise this historic event.
“Die Handy-Gesellschaft war erst der Anfang: Experten sehen in den Sphären des Internet einen neuen Erdteil entstehen. Hier lebt die Info-Elite, umgeben von PC, Pager, Powerbook. Die Multimedia-Industrie wird zur Schlüsselbranche des 21. Jahrhunderts – mit gravierenden Folgen für die Gesellschaft.”
The world has changed considerably since then; and so has Mongolia. The digital revolution has rolled across the planet, the attacks of 9/11 unleashed a wave of violence and wars, and Mongolia even became the fastest-growing economy in the world a few years ago (2012). But back when this book was researched, Mongolia was just coming out of decades of isolation within the Soviet orbit under Communism, and the country experienced in the 1990s “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever” (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).
Two trends came together at the end of the 1990s and the start of the 2000s: the digital revolution and the mapping of the human genome. Both have given birth to whole new industries. Read more here: The Dawn Of The Genetics Revolution | 2001 – 2003
The Swedish government is set to clamp down on satellite channels which carry advertising aimed at children and will tell channels to drop such advertising or face legal action.
The centre-left government’s threat of tough action follows Sweden’s winning extra powers last week through an amendment to the European directive on transfrontier broadcasting agreed by European culture ministers (NMM 13:42).
The main focus of the Swedish government’s wrath is the TV3 channel, owned by Kinnevik, which uplinks to the Astra 1a and Sirius satellites from the UK. TV3 based itself in the UK in order to benefit from the Independent Television Commission’s more liberal rules on advertising.
TV3’s main commercial television rival, TV4, has long protested to the government about what it sees as unfair competition from TV3 and other foreign-based channels.
The government will initially go after TV3 and the Luxembourg-based cable and satellite channel Femmen. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs said that pro-European satellite channels such as TNT/Cartoon Network and the Children’s Channel were lesser priorities, but could face action in the future.
TNT/Cartoon Network has a Swedish soundtrack and many Children’s Channel programmes are subtitled in Swedish on cable systems.
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs plans a two-pronged attack to remove the advertising it finds offensive and which is banned under Swedish broadcasting law: advertising aimed at children under 12 and carried in breaks around children’s programming.
First, the consumer-protection agency the Konsument Ombudsmanen will take action against advertising agencies which produce children’s advertising. Monica Bengtsson, a legal adviser to the Ministry of Culture, said that agencies will be warned once and then fined if they violate the rules a second time.
If this fails – and some observers believe that it will, because advertisers could move their accounts to non-Swedish agencies – the Ombudsmanen would then try the riskier move of taking channels to court to stop the ads.
The Ombudsmanen is not expected to act until it hears the results of the case it has already taken to the European Court of Justice against Italian children’s magazine publishers De Agostini for allegedly placing commercials targetting children under the age of 12 on both TV4 and TV3. Judgement is expected in mid-1996.
The Swedish government is also banking on public opinion to help pressure satellite channels to stop showing children’s advertising. The political climate in Sweden is strongly in favour of strict controls on advertising aimed at children. Swedish prime minister, Ingvar Carlsson, made cracking down on such advertising a key part of his opening speech to the present session of the Swedish parliament.
The amended directive (which still needs the approval of the European Parliament) allows a member state to ban children’s advertisements under its own rules even if the channel satisfies the rules of the country from which it is broadcast.
The Swedish government believes that the combination of the amended directive provisions and its ban on children’s advertising is all it needs to prevent the adverts.
Per Bystedt, vice-president of TV3, insisted this week that the channel is UK-licensed and therefore does not fall under Swedish law: “We are following the Independent Television Commission’s rules.”
New definitions on which countries are responsible for regulating channels, adopted by the European culture ministers last week, could lead to TV3 being regulated in Sweden rather than the more liberal UK if it is deemed that the channel is really established there. However, the Swedish government has investigated the extent to which TV3 is based in the UK and, according to Bystedt, has declared that it is satisfied that the company is British.