The National Media Conference for validating the draft MDI-based assessment was co-organized by the Associations of Mongolian Journalists, the Globe International Centre (GIC), the Press Institute and the Communications Regulatory Commission, with support from the UNESCO Office in Beijing and the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO, the embassies of Canada and USA in Ulaanbaatar, and the Mongolian chapter of Transparency International.
During the opening, the President of the Associations of Mongolian Journalists, Badam Galaarid, invited the media community to see this exercise as an opportunity to work for the common good of improving media professionalism and independence. On behalf of the UN Country Team, the Deputy Resident Coordinator, SoeNyunt-U, reminded participants that “free, independent and pluralistic media empower citizens with information that enables them to make informed choices and actively participate in democratic processes.” He underscored that “as the United Nations, we believe that to be successful, any national development strategy should therefore include a media development component.”
The first session of the Conference included a presentation on the methodology for the implementation of the MDIs at country level by Andrea Cairola, Adviser for Communication and Information at the UNESCO Office in Beijing; and an introduction to the draft Media Development Report and its recommendations by the President of GIC, Naranjargal Khashkhuu.
After a plenary activity on the safety of journalists, the participants then split into five working groups to review the draft Report, chapter by chapter, based on the five MDI categories as well as on its 50 main indicators and 194 sub-indicators. The review exercise was supported by international experts such as a representative from the UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector, a Senior Adviser from the OSCE’s Office of the Representative of Freedom of the Media (Michael Unland), a media law expert from the Canadian Centre for Law and Democracy (Michael Karanicolas) and two US experts from the International Senior Lawyers Project (Daniel Byron and Sigurd Sorenson).
How the media stakeholders could contribute to the ongoing media law reform in Mongolia was among the issues which triggered most discussion during the Conference, together with the campaign to decriminalize defamation, the practice of not declaring “paid-for” articles and hidden advertisement distorting journalistic professional standards. Attention was also drawn to the need for credible media self-regulation mechanisms, as well as for transparency in the allocation of public-funded advertisements. The debate was also lively when stakeholders discussed some recent regulations concerning online content, as well as the perceived need for anti-trust and ownership transparency mechanisms for the media sector.
Representatives from remote areas raised the question of the challenge of sustainability of small and local electronic media posed by the digital broadcasting switch-over, and requested transparency in the allocation of public-sponsored slots on the most popular satellite platform. The manager of a UNESCO-supported community radio (Nurlybek Konsul) broadcasting in a local language in the Bayan-Ugliiaimag Aimag territory in Western Mongolia, in making the argument for a community-media friendly legislative reform, said that in his community the radio station named after a local mountain “Uushingyn Tsuurau” is so appreciated that people provide donations without even being requested to, adding that “if we did not go on air for one day everybody would call and ask what has happened.”