This has been a revolutionary year in Mongolia's year. It may have taken 15 years, but Mongolia now has the possibility of a national radio and television service that will provide a genuinely public service. The change is deservedly winning plaudits but how that deep and long-lasting the change will be may rest on problem that is hard to resolve in a small, poor country: finance.
Mongolia came late to the notion of national television broadcasting Mongolia has had a national TV broadcaster since 1967 (its national radio service was in operation long before that) and, in a country whose tiny population (now estimated at 2.8 million) is spread over a huge territory (Mongolia is nearly three times size of France), television only slowly began to be a major presence in daily life.
Television is, though, now commonplace. Of the 541,000 households in Mongolia, 300,000 own a television set.
What has been lacking, though, is a public-service broadcaster. For some time, there has been variety on Mongolians' television screens. Many households have cable television, which ensures that they have access not just to the national television service, but also to some of the privately owned television channels that have sprung up over the past decade, channels such as UBS, MN-25, Eagle TV, TV5, and TV9.
But the commercial channels trying to eke out a profit in Mongolia pay relatively little attention to news coverage. For the past 15 years, the main source of news and information for a large part of the population, particularly in the countryside, has remained the national broadcaster Mongolian National Radio and Television (MNRTV). But throughout Mongolia's transition, MNRTV has been exposed to political pressure, which has sometimes shown through in political bias.
After 1990, when Mongolia first held multiparty elections, various attempts were made to promote the notion of public-service broadcasting. However, media reformers never managed to secure political support to change the laws. For much of that time, Mongolia has been ruled by the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), the continuation of the communist-era ruling party. But even an interlude between 1996 and 2000, when the MPRP was forced out of power, little progress was made. Until January 2005, the high point of media reform was in 1998, when a new media law was adopted that increased media freedoms.
What seems to have produced the abrupt change this year was the split parliament or State Great Hural produced by elections in June 2004. After long discussions, the MPRP and the opposition reached a power-sharing arrangement that resulted in a coalition government led by a former opposition leader.
AN INDEPENDENT BODY
Marius Dragomir is a Prague-based media consultant invited as a foreign expert to the conference on the future of Mongolian National Radio and Television.