Lack of money the biggest problem in local journalism

An important feature of the latest event in the Local News Network project run by the Mongolian Mining Journal – a training programme for print, broadcasting and electronic media journalists in the Western Region, held in the Uguuj Bulgan tourist camp near Bayankhongor city in Bayankhongor aimag on June 25-26 – was the chance it gave to participants to air their views of and grievances over working conditions, both at personal and professional levels. E.Odjargal reports on what four of them said. 

“There is no editorial independence”

N.Sovet, public television and radio journalist in Bayan-Ulgii: Bayan-Ulgii aimag has four TV stations, one newspaper, and one magazine, and the whole aimag is covered by public radio. Kazakh language programmes are broadcast one day in a week, giving Mongolian Kazakhs a chance to listen to educative and informative programmes in their mother language.

Three of the four TV channels are privately owned, and all face problems. Editorial independence does not exist, and journalists are underpaid. Since there is no proper work agreement with them, journalists do not have a sense of security. Some media organisations make a habit of hiring journalists, and then asking them to leave after 2-3 months, getting new staff. Apart from the personal stress involved, this effectively bars journalists from learning on the job and acquiring the skills and maturity that only long experience can give.

Since there is no money, reporters cannot travel to distant areas, and their mobility is restricted even in the aimag center where they are based. This means it is often not possible to go to a spot to check on a story, so reports remain unverified. Contributors’ letters are published as they come, without any checking with the source. This makes me think it would be better to have state-owned media for local communities.

Private television cannot assert their independence as they have no financial strength to gather news on their own. The bigger channels in Ulaanbaatar can send their journalists near and far to work on a story, but we cannot afford anything similar. There can never be editorial independence without the financial means to back it. Little attention is paid to this very important issue of strengthening local media structure. It seems the media in only UB has the right to be treated as ‘the fourth arm of governance’, and the media in local areas are relegated to neglect.

“Local journalists are Jack of all trades, master of none”

D.Altanchimeg, journalist in Khas Television, Uvurkhangai aimag:Local journalists are responsible for almost all things. They have to interview people at their workplace, run to the spot for news, edit the raw footage for telecast, anchor, prepare video clips for use in programmes, and do anything else that might be needed. There is no chance for us to specialize in one direction or on one area. This is a dream beyond our reach. We are so busy doing everything that we cannot do any one thing really well.

The biggest challenge before all privately owned local media organizations that want to work independently is finance. Support from political parties eases the struggle but it comes at the price of freedom.

There is a special problem for us this year. The analog system will be abandoned and the changeover into the HD system will be done in October. The estimated cost for a channel is MNT30 million.  The Communication Regulatory Commission has said only two local channels in an aimag would be chosen for the changeover, so what happens to the others?

Another problem for local organisations is that they do not manage to retain good workers. Entrants with ambition use their time here to learn the basics of the trade and then move to UB or the Central Area, where their work fetches more rewards. It is natural for freshly graduated young journalists to wish to develop their skills and improve their knowledge.

“A journalist has to wear too many hats”

T.Sanaadagva, Editor of Bayankhongor Today newspaper in Bayankhongor aimag: Our newspaper has been writing about mining for some time. We presented issues of responsible mining when Open Society Forum implemented a project in our aimag, and we discussed both negative and positive sides of artisanal mining and reclamation measures.

The present training by MMJ makes me feel I could have done better with these previous articles, and I am sure what I have learnt will help my future efforts be more useful. It is difficult for local journalists to focus on a story, for they have to work as reporter as well as editor, and also look for financing, and help in the marketing. This is the way journalism is practised in local areas. Generally speaking, the best graduates do not come to work here, and even those who do, leave for UB whenever there is an opening there.

One good thing is that we are now getting younger journalists. They have the commitment and the desire, but cannot properly develop their skills as they have to work on a very tight budget. There are not too many paying readers, and where is the money to employ more people to give wider coverage to local news? Printing costs are also increasing all the time.

“Lack of money leads to loss of integrity”

D.Batdamba, Editor of Bayankhongor Times newspaper, in Bayankhongor aimag: It is not easy to publish a newspaper in a local area. It is not just that a small population means fewer buyers, but even this few are shifting to the internet for their news. You know that Bayankhongor aimag spends MNT30 million per annum on local media units, but our share of this comes to MNT1.5 million, which barely meets our printing costs for only one quarter. And it is hard work to get the allocation released.

I appreciate and thank our local young journalists, who are brave enough to work in such difficult circumstances. Their seriousness of purpose is shown by how many of them have come here from distant aimags to participate in this training, without any financial incentive.

Low individual salaries and weak organizational finances are responsible for writing and publishing untruths. The need to survive makes us ignore the negative impact of such acts on society and public consciousness. There was a case when a senior official asked a journalist how much he expected to be paid for suppressing news.

The integrity of the profession will be assured and local journalism will command public respect only when all journalists come together to write only the truth, and not act as mere tools of politicians. State organizations in local areas use state budget money to disseminate information on Government work and programmes, something which can be better done and at less cost if such information is offered on a regular basis to media outlets, along with some payment for their use. Where is the need for separate state departments to act as information providers? Publication in the regular media will also help information reach the remotest bag.

We also need to devise ways to retain good journalists in the local communities, instead of allowing talent to move to Ulaanbaatar.

 


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