Improving the business sustainability of independent journalism through ‘smart’ media investments

The EU is the largest donor in the Western Balkans and among the most significant institutional investors in the modernisation of the region’s private sector. This enlargement-policy-driven investment is meant to stop the recession, modernise production and improve the competitiveness of enterprises in all sectors of the economy. The media, as a sector of industry currently experiencing tectonic changes, should be no exception.

Whilst media freedom is clearly a key political priority of EU accession, media outlets have seen little support in the form of EU investment. Without a pluralistic, economically sustainable and thereby independent media sector, there can be no chance for freedom of expression in the Western Balkans. To this end, it is necessary to identify the reasons that inhibit the use of EU business support tools already available for SMEs in the accession countries; and what adjustments and/or new forms of financial support are necessary to strengthen the independence and pluralism of media in the Western Balkans. In particular, the panel is expected to provide answers to the following questions:

  • How to bring existing EU business support instruments (including investment) closer to potential beneficiaries in the media sector?
  • The current market conditions for independent media are bleak. In this regard, a particular concern relates to the trend of advertising moving en masse towards intermediaries, and to the distortion (largely due to political influences) of the remaining advertising business in the Western Balkans. Against this backdrop, a sober assessment of the risks (including political risks) involved in media investments and of the ways in which these risks might be mitigated (e.g. by finding new and alternative sources of income) should be an important theme for this panel.
  • Radical shifts in media consumption habits pose an immense technological challenge to media actors. Can the ‘legacy media’ (recent pillars of content pluralism and independent journalism in the Western Balkans) that remain meet and overcome this challenge? Or does the future belong to newcomers in the media sector, who often have no professional journalism background? Should investors, including the EU, consider both as attractive options for investment? And is a return on investment the only reason for investing money in media?
  • What media products can rise to the challenge of global competition in the communications space? What business models and techniques would this require?
  • In its regular country assessments, the European Commission notes that economic leverage is being used to exercise political pressure upon independent media in the Western Balkans. Could EU assistance to independent media increase the resilience of independent media outlets?
  • Given the peculiarities of the media sector and the risks involved, should the EU consider new and/or innovative support instruments in order to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of independent media?