New Challenges; new models of cooperation?

By Davor Glavas, Internews

Many reports point to a clear downward trend in freedom of the press in the Western Balkans. Subtle political and economic editorial interference was compounded by the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and a dramatic reduction in advertising income, as well as by the migration of younger audiences to social media platforms. These shifts have made the media sector more dependent upon politics and business, and therefore more vulnerable to their lobbying and interests.

The prevalence of low-quality or trivial information in the public discourse is also seriously challenging media literacy and responsible journalism, and is casting doubt upon the very concept of ‘informed citizens’. In addition, the surge of fake news and ever more assertive foreign influences are making the media environment ever more complex and challenging.

In any case, the very fact that we are discussing whether 2018 was better in terms of media freedom in the Western Balkans than, say, 1997 or 1998 is alarming, and there is also a sense that the EU accession process has not provided sufficient safeguards for freedom of the press and of expression.

Well-informed citizens and the meaningful public debate of complex issues require better levels of mutual understanding, closer co-operation and sometimes even a synergy between the media sector, NGOs and civil society. There is a need to evaluate the results of international financial support to the non-governmental and independent media sectors in the Western Balkans. Some lessons have been learned—some of them the hard way—but it is now time to adjust the concept, modalities and expected results of international financial and other forms of support to these two vital sectors.