Supporting Greater Media Independence in the Western Balkans

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Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia
Aug 2022 – Feb 2023


The aim of this project is to strengthen the editorial independence of the media, enabling them to provide audiences with a more diverse range of content, so encouraging open, informed and active discussion amongst audiences in the six Balkans countries.


Local media outlets in six Balkan countries provide news, information and entertainment to over 13 million people who live outside the capital cities. These outlets face a number of threats to their independence and existence. As project research has shown, local media outlets, both online, broadcast and in print continue to be an important source of information for large numbers of people, as well as providing a mechanism for holding local government accountable.

The researchers identified a vibrant and crowded media scene with a wide variety of media outlets serving different communities. Some outlets have strong links with local NGOs and produce content focused on particular issues, including LGBTI rights, gender equality and rights for the Roma community. Others have a specific focus on local issues, such as environmental protection or protection of local archaeological sites. A number of outlets share information and news on local, cultural and social events, either for particular ethnic groups, or with the aim of supporting community cohesion. Some are very small scale, driven by the passion and commitment of a handful of individuals.

However, research also revealed their fundamental weakness. Advertising revenues overwhelmingly go to national news organisations, and local media are often left having to choose between accepting funding which undermines their independence and maintaining editorial independence but risking financial security. Funding from municipalities, individual owners and even advertising all come with the risk of clientelism, and there are examples where advertising revenue has been withdrawn as a result of certain content being published.

Other challenges, such as capacity, quality and resourcing are all related to this core issue of financial instability. Journalists are poorly paid, and many of the smaller outlets are run on a voluntary basis. This affects the pipeline of young journalists coming through, as young people choose more lucrative careers. Capacity issues mean that editorial choices are sometimes made in line with funder requirements and timelines rather than need. This diverts resources away from more complex stories that require more in-depth research and investigation.

Furthermore, women and men working in these local outlets perform a number of different roles and functions. This has an impact on quality, capacity and morale. In a context in which “fake news” and disinformation are widespread, independent local media provide a critical avenue for citizens to hold local government to account and to address issues in their local community. Many of the outlets surveyed already have some mechanism for interacting with their audiences and see this as an important means for ensuring their relevance and building trust.

Research reveals both a gender gap and a youth gap in terms of representation and visibility. Despite the majority of journalists in the region being women, media content continues to be highly gendered. Interviews with outlets has indicated that gender equality is not a priority issue for them. This gender-blind approach to reporting and management means that women will remain systemically disadvantaged in the workplace as well as in media content.

Young people consume media in a different way to the older generation. Accessing news through social media on smartphones, they are increasingly vulnerable to fake news and disinformation. Improving their engagement with independent media will help increase their resilience to harmful narratives, and could provide an outlet for more positive narratives, such as creating demand for more gender sensitive content. Engaged citizen reporting will give local news outlets an opportunity to better respond to the needs and concerns of young people, and youth media outlets can form mutually beneficial partnerships with young people who have a following on social media.

Considering these challenges, Supporting Greater Media Independence in six Balkan countries will support outlets to be more financially and structurally resilient, including improving gender quality in the workplace, and will enable them to produce more quality, relevant, gender-sensitive content that attracts and engages new audiences, including women, young people and marginalized groups. The project aims to achieve a level of relationships and standards in which media outlets and journalists report together with citizens, and not only about them.


UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Conflict, Stability and Security Fund

Main objective:

Audiences in six WB countries to engage with a diversified, independent and balanced media.

Main Activities:

  1. Media accelerator
    • Technical assistance support to media outlets
    • Grants for implementation of business development plans
    • Improvement of media outlets’ digital tools and capacities
    • E-learning
  2. Engaged Citizens Reporting
    • Grant funding
    • Capacity building (training and mentoring)
    • Promotion
  1. Media incubator
    • Provision of technical and legal assistance
    • Capacity Building
    • Public debate and knowledge exchange
    • Emergency Fund
  1. Youth media and young journalists
    • Support to youth media outlets
    • Young journalists’ traineeship
    • Summer school scholarships
  1. Gender and media
    • Capacity building and training on gender sensitivity for men and women media professionals
    • Capacity building and training on safety for men and women journalists
    • Assessment of media outlets against a selection of UNESCO indicators
    • Strengthening networks and sharing good practice
    • Capacity building for men and women journalists and editors on gender sensitive reporting
    • Database of sector experts disaggregated by gender
  1. Country specific interventions

Target Groups:

  • Local media outlets and journalists in the Balkan countries

Main implementer:

The British Council


Thomson Foundation and INTRAC