Steppe change as US media bring glitz to Mongolia
Published — Friday 18 January 2013
Last update 18 January 2013 4:05 am
A US media invasion of Mongolia, which has ridden a globalization wave since shaking off communism two decades ago, is making waves.
Mongolians are avid readers and the country’s literacy rate is over 97 percent, a legacy of the Soviet-era education system which saw village boarding schools set up for nomads’ children. Even in the vast nation’s distant grasslands herdsmen are to be found reading crumpled two-week-old newspapers inside their felt-covered yurts.
With its economy roaring on the back of a mining boom that fueled 11 percent growth last year publishers now see opportunities from targeting newly wealthy Mongolians with premium-priced, Western-linked products.
Launched in December 2010, Cosmopolitan has built a circulation of 5,000 copies. National Geographic has since followed in its wake.
The US financial news agency Bloomberg set up a joint-venture television station in Ulan Bator in October, aimed at the city’s emerging financial kingpins and ordinary people looking for advice on what to do with their free government-issued shares in state-owned mining companies.
With the rapidly shifting economy, fast urbanization, major infrastructure projects and environmental threats, the Mongolian-language National Geographic is also making an impact, despite its steep cover price of MNT20,000 ($ 14.40).
“Many people are concerned about nature and how it can be preserved while we simultaneously develop our economy,” said Khaliun Tseven-Ochir, the general manager of Irmuun, which publishes both National Geographic and Cosmopolitan.
“Through National Geographic we can influence our country’s leaders to avoid the mistakes that have been made in the past. Our readers expect us to raise these issues,” she added.
Images of Kim Kardashian and Mongolian model Sarnai Saranchimeg were the primary selling points and for those who buy it for the articles, there were interviews with Ulan Bator mayor Bat-Uul Erdene and actor Jack Nicholson, plus a profile of the late Steve Jobs.
“Before we launched most people thought that it is just porn. But we are challenging that perception with intellectual articles that will help keep our Mongolian men informed,” said editor-in-chief Bolormaa Natsagdorj.
Mongolia has 2.75 million people spread across an area half the size of India, and its media landscape is as wild as its physical one.
The new magazines compete with dozens of local publications, many of them trashy tabloids filled with yellow journalism, often with unsourced facts.
Some owners of major daily newspapers — which do not do not reveal circulation figures, but are said to sell 5,000-8,000 copies — have family or friendship links to top politicians.
But the arrival of US media can only raise local reporting standards, said Khulan Jugder, a journalism instructor at the capital’s University of the Humanities.
“Mongolian media stations are all private and politicians own many of them. So they can’t inform in an unbiased way or make objective programs,” she said.
National Geographic is mostly translated. Around four hours a day of the Bloomberg television programming is local, and the rest translated from Hong Kong. For now they are more emblematic of a social transformation that is already seeing young, upwardly mobile Mongolian women challenging traditional norms of career choice and lifestyle.
Mongolia’s Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, 46, seems to epitomize the changes. A Stanford graduate and one of nine female members of the country’s 76-seat Parliament, the Great Hural, she has moved up the ranks of government with positive energy, a can-do attitude and an array of fashionable trouser suits.
Cosmopolitan “certainly helps our young ladies and girls gain confidence in themselves,” she said. “Women need to share their secrets of success, beauty and strength. Sisterhood is a natural need of every woman.”