Thomson Foundation has long had a commitment to help strengthen quality journalism in the Western Balkans, and this will continue in 2019 with an expanded programme.
Serbia is seen as a strategically significant country, with more and more young people obtaining their news digitally. But a 2018 study of Serbia's digital economy – commissioned by the foundation – found a high level of mistrust in the media, along with widespread concern that freedom of expression was difficult when political interference and corruption were rife.
Thomson Foundation wants to support media plurality by helping to set up independent media houses. And it wants to ensure this goes hand in hand with plausible business strategies.
David Quin, its director of development, stresses the importance of a judicious use of funding. "We and our financial partners have to ensure the money is wisely used as our involvement in the Western Balkans is as much from a business development perspective as it is from an editorial one."
"Sustainability is crucial here. There is a strong link for us between editorial independence and business development.”
The new EU-funded programme in the region is seen as a step-change for the foundation, with its clear commitment to independent journalism which is self-sustaining financially and free from political interference. The long-term plan is to strengthen investigative journalism, develop further e-learning platforms and help cross-border co-operation with the aim of reaching larger audiences. "A business plan is essential to all of this," says David. "It goes along with the development of an independent media.
"Sustainability is crucial here. There is a strong link for us between editorial independence and business development."
Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare