Lisa Gardner: Despite challenges in the constant pursuit of a free press, I am optimistic

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The UB Post interviewed journalist Lisa Gardner, a media trainer from the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development who volunteered at The UB Post from 2013 to 2014, about the Mongolian media sector and her time at The UB Post.

We believed that Lisa Gardner is the perfect person to interview for our 20th anniversary edition as she studied Mongolia’s laws pertaining to freedom of the press and free speech in depth, and personally experienced the way Mongolian media operates.

During her time in Mongolia, Gardner trained the staff at The UB Post in investigative journalism and digital journalism, and contributed greatly in elevating the newspaper’s standards.

This year, The UB Post is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Do you think publishing a newspaper in English has an impact on the nation’s international status and foreign relations?

Firstly, congratulations to the staff and alumni on the 20th year of The UB Post. The newspaper has served Mongolia extraordinarily well over its time. I am extraordinarily proud and honored to have spent time with the newspaper and its dedicated staff, who work extraordinarily hard to bring news of Mongolia to locals, foreigners and the Mongolian diaspora abroad.

As an English language newspaper, The UB Post has a unique place in Mongolian society. Yet ultimately, I see the role of this organization as much like any other – to reflect society back to itself. Sometimes, this means seeing things that perhaps not all would welcome. Yet as journalists – journalists, like all others, both Mongolian and otherwise – truth seeking, and honest story-telling is our responsibility.

How do you view the Mongolian media sector?

Across Mongolian media today, we see an enormous challenge in ensuring the separation of business and commercial imperatives from journalism. At its heart, journalism – and journalists – must first consider their duty to the public, providing news based on facts, unfiltered by the perceived business interests of their employers. As Mongolia’s major news outlets are largely owned by prominent business figures, we see numerous cases in which these commercial interests dictate the way news is covered. Editors and journalists alike often find themselves pressured to act accordingly. This remains one of the greatest challenge in advancing journalism, and press freedom, in Mongolia.

Similarly, Mongolia’s defamation laws have more recently been used to curb the right to free expression, and freedom of the press. Local press freedom organizations, such as Globe International, have reported numerous cases in which these laws have been used to protect prominent politicians’ own shady business practices. Until these laws are met with well-developed and comprehensively enacted freedom of information laws, we are likely to see cases like this continue to emerge. Without pressure from Mongolian citizens themselves, politicians are unlikely to reform these laws in line with greater accountability.

Quite frankly, any assessment of the integrity of Mongolia’s democratic system – of which all Mongolians are, and should be, very proud – must also consider the current press freedom environment.

Can a press be considered “free” if bound primarily by business interests? Often, we see that where business interests flourish, the most vulnerable in a society are those most affected. These are all questions for the Mongolian people – particularly young people – to closely consider.

Mongolia is changing incredibly rapidly, and has incredible, once-in-a-generation opportunities before it. A democratic system, extensive mining resources and a young, internet-savvy population will only yet see greater, more rapid change in years to come.

During your time in Mongolia, what did you accomplish and which part of the Mongolian society did you focus on?

In Mongolia, I worked closely with journalists at The UB Post and elsewhere to develop their writing skills, and further their understanding of key principles of international journalism. It was an enormously fulfilling time in my life. Fortunately, all of the journalists that I encountered were not only dedicated but willing to progress their skills, and challenge themselves to set new standards.

Mongolia is changing incredibly rapidly, and has incredible, once-in-a-generation opportunities before it. A democratic system, extensive mining resources and a young, internet-savvy population will only yet see greater, more rapid change in years to come.

For journalists today, the growth of digital journalism is a critical change. Today, the growth of social media, coupled with the speed of local and international news items, mean that we are all increasingly connected to one another. I live in Australia, and yet can regularly keep up with news from Mongolia: a generation ago, this would have been impossible. Yet today these are the standards of online journalism that we have come to expect, both within Mongolia and more broadly. In this sense, I’m pleased that The UB Post will launch a new website to mark its 20th anniversary.

Mongolia is a fascinating country, with enormous potential. At this critical time in the nation’s history, Mongolia’s journalists must work to ensure that those most powerful in Mongolia’s society – be these in business, politics, or both – are consistently held to account. I am honored to know so many dedicated Mongolian journalists, and am exceptionally proud of their commitment to the public interest. In this way, despite the challenges that remain in the constant pursuit of a free press, I am optimistic.

as journalists – journalists, like all others, both Mongolian and otherwise – truth seeking, and honest story-telling is our responsibility.

 

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