Introducing lnvestigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia
03 July 1999
by David South, United Nations Volunteer
Moron, Mongolia: August 14, 9.00 a.m. It is Day Two of the training and eleven journalists and the two trainers, Ms. Oyunsetseg and Mr. Batbold from the Press Institute of Mongolia, quickly run through the day's schedule. The journalists will spend the next two hours interviewing subjects for their stories. The investigative journalism training consists of a facilitated workshop and out of-class assignments. All the journalists said this was the first time they had explored in detail this sub-category of journalism. Not all the students were experienced journalists but that was made up for by the quality of the two facilitators, who both kept the workshop lively.
11.30 a.m. The debate begins over the stories. One team has chosen to look at poverty alleviation projects at theBak (local government) level. They want to write a story looking at poor accountability for loans, the practice of nepotism and the ability of recipients to start small businesses. The team investigating the power black-out wants to do further interviews with the poorest people affected by the black-outs.
4.00 p.m: Back at the Erkh Choloo (Freedom) newspaper, editor Nyamjav discusses the week's news with his graphic designer. I visited the offices of "Erkh Choloo" and was impressed by the skill level of the staff. While they had only one computer and barren offices, the graphic designer was using PageMaker software to layout the newspaper - it won an award from the Press Institute for being the best local paper in 1997. The designer wanted to reccive more training to upgrade his skills. The newspaper will be cut off from local government subsidies for printing at the end of this year and is already making plans to find other sources of revenue. "The training allows us to learn about western theories of journalism," says editor Mr. Nyamjav. "It has noticeably changed our stories - I know how to criticise reporters and push them to be more investigative."
8.30 p.m: A benzine shortage hit hardest outside the capital of Ulaanbaatar. Here at a Moron gas station cars patiently wait for new supplies to arrive or to receive a ration of benzine. Not only is there no gas, there is also no electricity. Power station director Mr. Sukhbaatar says households owe the utility Tg 27 million US$ …..), which has not been paid by 3,500 households: 1,000 did pay and were cut off anyway. It is the poorest households in theger districts who are unable to pay, but Sukhbaatar says he is caught between a rock and a hard place: gas companies need to be paid or the power station gets cut off. Either people pay or he takes them to court and recovers the money by confiscating household possessions.
9.00 p.m: I was asked to conduct a one-hour discussion of my experiences as an investigative journalist in Canada and England. The debate afterwards was lively (despite being at 9 pm!). A common question was how to deal with pressure from government and corporations to alter the content of stories. Being regional journalists, a common complaint was the difficulty in distributing newspapers to remote communities. They asked how international donors could help in this matter, pointing out that in the past the government subsidized newspaper distribution to a greater extent. They also wanted a connection to international journalists in some way, preferably through an association. My general impression was that
UNDP's projects have helped a great deal in connecting these journalists, but much more needs to be
done. They face enormous difficulties not encountered by journalists in the capital, including stagnant
local economies, large distances, inadequate training and revenue.
David South, United Nations Volunteer