Ground Under the Wheels of Propaganda

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I just completed a four-hour postmortem of the election/riot coverage with our senior staff. We spent a great deal of time going over details of election day coverage, and of course the riots that followed. As with all postmortems after a broadcast, we assessed our strengths and weakness, and how to make improvements. In the past, each time we’ve covered a major event like this, the nature of how the rest of the media covers them also changes. This is not meant as a boast. It’s simply a statement of fact that the rest of the Mongolian media know—from the Gulf War coverage, to live viewer calls, to the presidential election, to the riots, virtually all other media here recognizes the leadership role of Eagle TV when it comes to setting new standards and taking risks. In fact, this week I will be presenting awards and bonuses to the Eagle TV news and technical staff who, at the risk of their own lives, took extraordinary steps to provide live coverage of the riots.

We are keenly aware that the wheels of the propaganda machine are beginning to spin their long tale that Eagle TV was responsible for the riots. As I wrote in a previous blog entry, there is now significant discussion among members of parliament to force the shut down of Eagle by outlawing foreign ownership of media—even though other stations also carried live coverage of the riots. During the State of Emergency while only one TV station has been allowed to broadcast—under government control—the propaganda machine has begun churning.

Case in point, while we had our staff meeting today, State TV aired a live interview with a public relations officer of the police department in which he recounted how live media reports were irresponsibly urging on the protesters. We immediately broke from our meeting to watch the interview. While the officer didn’t mention Eagle TV by name, the program only showed excerpts from Eagle TV’s coverage (which, by the way, they acquired from our office). I stood with our senior staff and news team watching the interview. The implication was clear to everyone. Eagle TV is being held partially responsible for the riots. But it’s not just implication! Last night a State TV program featured interviews with those claiming to be rioters who said they were encouraged by Eagle TV to join the protest. Honestly, I only have one word for that.

Bull.

A few people have mentioned to me that I should not refer to MNB as “State TV,” since it was reorganized as a public entity. But when MNB carries programming like this, sanctioned or steered by the authorities, then has it not, in effect, become “State TV” all over again?

As I reported in yesterday’s blog, Today Newspaper (an MPRP-leaning paper) has also begun their spin, with a little seedling of blame planted on Eagle.

“I am 18. I live in 1st district, Songinokhairkhan. I watched what’s going on on TV and I came because Eagle TV was was airing a news that has a meaning of appealing to come to square and join in the protest.”

Today I received a translation of another article by Today Newspaper, published on July 3rd, in which the writer squarely hits at Eagle TV as a foreign invested entity. The seeds are apparently spouting. Check this out…

“Eagle TV fully accomplished its goal to urge the public for violence…there is evidence that there are Black Powers (foreign investment), who are interfering in our country’s political life. We, the Mongolian journalists, have to say no to Killer Journalists, who are serving the Black Powers.”

“Black powers,” and “Killer Journalists.” That’s almost as bad as the 2006 article Today published calling me a terrorist against the state (I’m sure I’ll see that smear resurrected this time too). Perhaps the writer, O. Togoo, didn’t see our anchor, Baska, on location during the riot coverage urging people on air to be calm and restrain themselves. So much for “Killer Journalists.”

None of this is new. We’ve been through this many times. Anytime there is a protest and Eagle provides news coverage, we get slammed, or I get slammed as a foreign meddler. While the election coverage was going on I was in the States, but was not immune 8,000 miles away as my mobile phone received angry text messages demanding I, “Get out of Mongolia you impudent foreigner.”

After today’s long discussion our staff universally expressed the same sentiment. Eagle TV was doing nothing more than the job of journalism.

In light of these things, what is next for Eagle TV?

We return to air at 7am Sunday morning (7pm Saturday EST) with all-day live coverage of the post State of Emergency. We believe Sunday will be one of our most important broadcasts of the year. We’ll be reporting live from the studio and from the field, talking to people about the riots and how the community can bring about the healing and unity necessary after such a tragic event. The Eagle Cares team will be collecting donations to help rebuild the Culture Center, destroyed by fire during the riots. We will be talking live with victims, rioters, and officials. And we will ask our viewers to critique our performance during the riots—pro and con.

Eagle TV’s greatest strength is that it acts as an open, free conduit for the Mongolian people to express their views without censorship. We’re going to continue that work tomorrow. Our job is community-driven journalism, not propaganda.

If we are to be damned for it, then so be it.

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