What has been the impact of ten years of the international community’s support to media in the Western Balkans? This report from the Media Task Force of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe analyses 37 existing evaluations of media support projects, and makes recommendations for the future. In spite of mixed results, the impact of media assistance has been substantial. Donors should consider the development of the wider media market instead of sustaining too many individual media outlets. Projects should help NGOs work with lawyers to understand and use new laws once reforms have been passed.
In the Balkans, media support became a central strategy for the international community in addressing a range of political and social issues. Its aims included changing society and influencing politics, although these were often couched in non-political, media-oriented language.
The view that a strong media sector is key to stable, market-oriented democracies is deeply ingrained in the donor community. Support, accordingly, often sought to help particular media survive in difficult conditions through direct or emergency support. As the political environment changed, objectives switched to goals of professional quality and market sustainability.
Different types of support were provided, with varying degrees of success. These included:
- Direct support for political objectives: This refers to funding given to specific organisations and journalists for carrying out basic functions. It was often rapid and spontaneous, and despite its risks it proved an effective way to support democracy.
- Media-specific direct support: Donor support broke the grip of government and political parties on media. However, it has also contributed to an overabundance of media.
- Legal and regulatory support: Support for legal reform was largely successful in helping authorities draft laws and processes based on Northern practices. However, failure to implement reforms has reduced the impact of support.
- Training and education: This was overemphasised by donors, leading to an oversized, poorly-coordinated education market. While some skills were transferred, there is little evidence that training was effective in bridging ethnic divides.
- Support for media institutions: Support to media centres had some impact but was expensive and led to dependency on donors. Support for journalists’ unions is important, but unions have not overcome divisions or gained enough support.
The assessment yields a number of recommendations for future media assistance, both in the Balkans and further afield.
- Assistance should emphasise international human rights standards and the non-partisan nature of support in order to avoid imputations of politicisation.
- Media strategies should consider the development of the wider media market and seek to strengthen the position of journalists in relation to owners.
- Support for legislative reform should not be considered complete with the passage of legislation.
- When providing training, coordination among donors is necessary to avoid a chaotic and contradictory range of too many options. Training should be carried out on the basis of a thorough and independent needs assessment.
- Donors should support journalists’ unions, but only when they have demonstrated significant membership and sound vision.
- Media centres need to be efficient and market driven, cooperating closely with the industry they serve.