Partnerships and Sustainability in Focus at the EU-Western Balkans Media Conference 2022

November 10-11 (Tirana, Albania) – The EU-Western Balkans Media Conference 2022, organized jointly by the European Commission and the European External Action Service, gathered over 180 participants, including media professionals, journalists, civil society organizations, fact-checkers and other partners from the Western Balkans region and the EU.

The Conference opened with a workshop hosted by Andris Kesteris, Media and Civil Society Principal Adviser at the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, presenting the newest media assistance programs in the Western Balkans.

Mr. Kesteris noted there are currently three new programs in the region underway, calling them the “three most important interventions in support of media freedom in the Western Balkans.” Mr. Kesteris placed a specific focus on media sustainability and previous media interventions in the region, discussing the new Support to Media Freedom and Pluralism in the Western Balkans, co-funded by the European Union and the German Government, and implemented by GIZ, in collaboration with Internews and DW Akademie, noting that:

“So far, the traditional approach to media support implemented by the EU has been largely project-based, creating media as clever implementors or even tools in terms of deploying communication projects of different nature. But you cannot do these projects without addressing real needs of media in terms of increased sustainability, and this is why this project-based approach didn’t work.”

While analyzing existing interventions and models of media support, the EU concluded that the existing BMAP (Balkan Media Assistance Program) model, implemented by Internews and funded by USAID, should be replicated under the EU umbrella. Mr. Kesteris expressed his pleasure with having BMAP present at the conference, noting that “this is a point on donor coordination against the backdrop of the scarcity of available money for media support. It’s important that donors coordinate very closely, down to the  coordination of assistance on the level of individual beneficiaries so that no money is wasted.”

USAID’s Senior Media Advisor at the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, Shannon Maguire, presented the “remarkable results” of the BMAP (2017-2022) project in the Western Balkans, and future plans with the BMAP Forward project, funded by USAID and implemented by Internews as part of the PROGRESS Human Rights Support Mechanism.

Discussing “clickbaitism” and the danger of large tech companies using media only for advertisements on clickbait content, BMAP Forward Chief of Party and Internews’ Western Balkans Advisor, Davor Glavaš, noted  “We are not overly optimistic, but we’ll use every opportunity to change the current course in that field.” Glavaš also reiterated the three key elements of BMAP Forward program (sustainable business models, engaging wider audiences and creative partnerships), emphasizing that BMAP does not want or expect media partners “to compromise quality to get more clicks or to increase the revenue. On the contrary, quality of content is the key. It is on us and our partners to identify the best content monetization model, strictly using the quality-first approach,” Glavaš said.

The conference continued with panel discussions on issues such as information manipulation and foreign interference, modern content production, building societal resilience to disinformation to protect democracy, and collaborative approaches as the key to increased sustainability of independent media and its improved quality.

On the margins of the conference, representatives of the European Commission, USAID, Internews, European Endowment for Democracy, and GIZ had a productive coordination meeting, planning further joint and complementary steps in supporting the Western Balkans independent media.