Mongol TV shows unreliability of Mongolia’s press

Mongol TV shows unreliability of Mongolia’s press

A few months ago, a hoax by the recently launched news broadcaster Mongol TV revealed how unreliable some outlets can be. Anyone interested in doing business in the country would do well to make a note of this.

Landlocked between Russia and China, Mongolia has over the latest decades experienced one of the world’s greatest mining booms. The Gobi desert holds promises of vast amounts of coal, copper and gold. Rio Tinto and Centerra Gold are two of the major foreign players at the scene.

The Mongolian press, however, is not as well-developed as the mining industry. Mongol TV, therefore, wanted to highlight some of its problems. To show just how easily the country’s press could be manipulated, they planted a fake story.

Paying a few hundred dollars each to major news outlets, Mongol TV’s man got them all to cover McDonald’s’ expansion into Mongolia. It was seemingly a good business story for a country experiencing rapid growth. The only problem was that McDonald’s was nowhere near such an expansion.

With a well-known corporation like McDonald’s, it should have been easy for journalists to verify or refute the story. A simple phone call to their headquarters would have done the trick. But that did not happen, and the story spread – first through Mongolian media and then over the internet. The next day Mongol TV revealed the hoax and put the country’s other media outlets to shame. So ashamed were some, in fact, that hate mail started pouring in.

But they were also faced with a question: how could this have happened so easily?

Insufficient editorial oversight and lack of fact-checks are big problems in Mongolia, claims Davaasuren Bat-oktyabri from C1 Television – a channel that was not tricked. It seems that the Mongolian media is not professional enough when faced with the tactics of professional communications advisers and worse. Mongol TV showed how straightforwardly politicians and companies can buy press coverage in Mongolia.

Bat-oktyabri says low wages among journalists is part of the explanation for this. When faced with extra money for doing a story they did not even have to research themselves, the journalists made the easy choice. And there was no one there in the news room to stop them.

Reporters Without Borders rank Mongolia as 88th out of 180 countries on their newly released Press Freedom Index for 2014. That is ten places higher than last year, but also fifteen places lower than ten years ago. Rarely discussed in depth by Reporters Without Borders, Mongolia seems to hover fairly stably around the mid-table range of their annual indexes.

Other countries in the region – like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia or China – clearly have bigger problems with censorship and lack of independent journalism. For Mongolia, the Freedom of Information Act of 2011 secures every citizens right to seek information from the government. Where the country’s problems lie is instead with the lack of a proper media infrastructure.

Sly communications advisers can therefore expect to find a receptive market for dirty PR-tactics in Mongolia. Those on the receiving end of the information flow, however, are unfortunately forced to double-check any input from the Mongolian press. For the sake of information reliability, we can only hope that Mongol TV’s stunt was a wake-up call for some media houses.

About Author

Hallvard Barbogen

Hallvard currently works as a communications advisor for companies in the financial and environmental sectors. He has previously worked for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, development NGOs and in local media. He holds an MA with distinction from the Department of War Studies at King's College London and a BA from the University of Oslo.