USAID’s BMAP Forward Annual Media Forum: Thinking Forward in Disruptive Times

SARAJEVO, 10-11 May 2023 – Over 100 media professionals from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia gathered at USAID’s BMAP Forward 2023 Annual Media Forum in Sarajevo. The two-day event addressed pressing topics affecting independent media in the region, including threats to freedom of speech, emerging trends in the region’s media and advertising markets, new business models, and the evolution of audience-driven publishing. Speakers included legal experts from the region and representatives from USAID’s Media Viability Accelerator and Reporters Shield projects, SmartOcto, International Press Institute, I&F Group, FilmAid and international donors and investors, including the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GiZ), European Endowment for Democracy and the National Endowment for Democracy.

The conference was opened by the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Michael J. Murphy. In his opening remarks, the U.S. Ambassador to BiH said, “We are proud to support the BMAP Forward program – the reason we are all here today – which is empowering a network of independent media in the region.  This program helps media outlets improve their business models and professionalize their operations; for example, by helping print outlets transition to online platforms and access state-of-the-art media technology.  Our support helps outlets achieve financially sustainability so they can remain independent, expand their audiences, and keep up with a constantly changing media landscape.  It also provides space for collaboration, including here at this forum, enabling outlets from across the region to work together to tackle the myriad challenges they face.”

While reiterating U.S. support to freedom of speech, freedom of press, and independent media, the U.S. Ambassador also expressed concerns regarding the closing space for independent journalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina and throughout the region saying: “It would be understandable if you decided to give up, if you decided that the risks you are asked to take are not worth it.  Yet, your work could not be more important, more consequential to the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to this region than it is right now.”

The conference participants reported that the threats to freedom of speech are a worrying trend, not only because they are growing, but because of the critical role free press plays in vulnerable societies. They also agreed that new monetization models, sustainability of independent media, gender equality and inclusion, protection of journalists and solidarity among journalists, and donors’ cooperation are important topics that should remain at the focus of attention for the region’s media community.  

As part of this year’s Media Forum, participants also had the opportunity to visit the Glass Room Misinformation Edition Exhibition, a public intervention that aims to demystify technology through immersive, thought-provoking, self-learning exhibitions, created by Tactical Tech.