Sony Pixel Power calrec Sony

The backbone of professional and independent journalism


The media situation in the Western Balkans is deteriorating as a result of repeated attacks on media freedom and systematic undermining of the profession. The countries of the Western Balkans now rank amongst the lowest of all European countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index

Of the 180 countries listed by RSF, Bosnia and Herzegovina is in 58th place, followed by Kosovo on 70, Albania is 84, North Macedonia 92, Serbia 93, and Montenegro 105.

Speaking at a conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2019, the general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutierrez, said that Media freedom is declining all over Europe but the situation is worse in this region than in any other place.

It is within this challenging media landscape that Thomson Foundation is working as part of a consortium in a project funded by the UK Government's Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) to develop and strengthen the editorial independence and business operations of local media outlets in the six Western Balkans countries.

Why Local? Local media is particularly vulnerable according to a recent study commissioned by Thomson Foundation which indicates that local outlets in all six WB countries are overwhelmingly neglected compared to the national ones. Here local media refers to those organisations that operate outside the capitals and big cities.

The foundation's study is unusual as there is currently little or no detailed knowledge about local media as most research focuses on the national level. It revealed opportunities to help these media organisations to engage audiences as a potential source of revenue.

It comes at a time of increased importance for local media. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the need for local, appropriate, and accurate information. As the Council of Europe points out the provision of timely information about public health risks is a critical element in crisis response.

Media in the Western Balkans Approximately 18 million people live in the six countries of the Western Balkans, of which Serbia has the largest population, about 7 million and Montenegro the smallest, 0.6 million.

Overall there are around 1,500 local media outlets, almost half in Serbia, followed by 19% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 12% in Albania, 10% in North Macedonia, 7% in Kosovo, and 5% in Montenegro.

The general media markets in all these countries are fragmented, saturated, and opaque in regard to the number of outlets and their operations, with ownership also often obscure. The online media market is the most vibrant, with on average six online outlets operating in each community.

The Thomson Foundation study identifies that, in the absence of stable revenues local media are dependent on public financing, and so, since income from advertising is limited, their editorial policies adapt to the dominant political option, while those that strive to remain professional and independent find it hard to survive, with little donor help available

Local media Some news websites are trying to avoid this dependence on public financing with innovative approaches. Direkt based in Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina is described as an untypical news portal with a primary goal to report not on every event but to focus on selected topics with more analytical and in-depth reports. The aim to tap into a more targeted audience and revenue streams.

Mileva Malesic from TV Forum in Prijepolje, Serbia, offers another approach. The creation of local outlets network for sharing products and information could be of immense help, she says.

TV Forum recently ran a crowd funding campaign to raise funds for new equipment. In less than two months they collected USD 5.500 which represents almost 50 per cent of their monthly budget.

Role in the community According to journalist Nikolija Bijelica from Direkt there are more negative than positive sides to working for a local media outlet.

On positive side one knows better what the main issues in the community are and who is responsible to address them, she says. On negative side the list is slightly longer. Namely, in small communities everyone knows everyone so the pressure on journalists is greater.

Suzana Nikolich from the Kumanovo news website in North Macedonia, has similar views. She points out that local media's biggest advantage is at the same time its biggest disadvantage.

Knowing the majority of people or knowing someone that knows someone is good for obtaining unofficial information, she says. But in the same time problematic due to constant pressure on media workers.

Challenging environment But despite working in challenging environments, journalists in local media outlets are aware of their importance and the key role they play for the local communities

Limos Didani, founder of Saranda Web, a news portal based in Saranda, Albania, points out that the role of the local media is crucial to the voices of the community being heard. The people want their concerns raised and to continue to be in the news until they are resolved.

As an example of slow but steady progress that local media can initiate in local communities Mileva Malesic from TV Forum points to her personal experience. She was the first female journalist to be employed in the Prijepolje local outlet which was set up in 1952. Since her appointment the number of female journalist in Prijepolje has steadily increased. In TV Forum, which Mileva established in 2008, of the 10 employees six of the journalists are women.

This article draws on a Comparative Study: Local Media in the Western Balkans completed by the Thomson Foundation in March 2020. It examined how local media operate across the six countries in the region examining shared characteristics in particular the challenges they faced; financial sustainabili
See more stories from thompsonfoundation

More from Thomson


Creating greater transparency and accountability of government

By Henry O. Maina Government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is a...


Thomson Foundation appoints Caro Kriel as chief executive

Thomson Foundation has appointed Caro Kriel - a veteran journalist with more than 20 years' experience in international news - as its new chief executive. ...


Greatest reward: Helping to progress the careers of countless journalists

Thomson Foundation is unique: the place where the cut and thrust of the news industry meets the more strategic international media development sector. Every ye...


Giving Sudanese a voice in rebuilding their economy

Rebuilding Sudan's shattered economy after the 2019 uprising requires the country's journalists to understand and explain the key economic issues to the...


Giving Sudanese a voice in rebuilding their economy.

Rebuilding Sudan's shattered economy after the 2019 uprising requires the country's journalists to understand and explain the key economic issues to the...


Raised voices: Giving women a voice in local media

A unique research project in a remote district of north-west Pakistan has helped to empower women and give them a voice in local media. Thomson was approached...


Remote control: Covid-19 and the smartphone

Ask Spanish television reporter Leonor Su rez what role mobile journalism played during the first wave of the pandemic and she barely pauses for thought. Moj...


Staying Safe: Introducing a journalist s guide to covering protests

Nata a Kova ev is a reporter with the Balkans based 24 hour news channel N1. She is the instructor for our online learning course, Staying safe: Covering protes...


Hidden from view: Reporting on human trafficking and modern slavery

Every journalist wants to go on a rescue mission. But hidden from view, the human trafficking story is one of the most challenging, complex and ethically testin...


Challenges of becoming a journalist in a restrictive society

Maryam Anam is an aspiring young radio journalist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a region in north-west Pakistan where women's voices are rarely heard. She is being...


Local news: rebuilding trust and relevance in the pandemic

As the old newsroom clich has it, all news is local. And despite being a global pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has been felt first in our families, on our doors...


Hard truths in Peru: Journalism without fear or favour

World Voices: Mart n Leandro Camacho, Peru Secuestraron mi pais. Emblazoned on a protest placard and photographed by Peruvian journalist, Mart n Leandro C...


My fellowship in a year of Covid-19

A fellowship with Thomson Media didnt go quite as Hend Kheiralla expected in the pandemic. At home in Sudan, I was used to working remotely for digital enterpr...


Why messaging apps put us in the right place at the right time

You're in a queue. How likely is it that you'll check your messages on your mobile phone? Even the least digital amongst us is spending 30 minutes a day...


Martin Leandro Camacho: The compassionate face of Peru

PROFILE: Young Journalist Award 2020 winner Mart n Leandro Camacho has always been passionate about being compassionate. The 27-year-old spent the formative...


Grounded by coronavirus: The challenges of virtual practical training

Grounded by Covid-19, our trainers have been learning new skills to be able to impart their expertise to their journalist trainees with promising results. Th...


Messaging Apps: Tackling training in the pandemic

Covid-19 may have forced our workshops online but by innovation and experimentation our trainers have continued to teach and mentor often on less conventional p...


When e-workshops are exciting - a blog by Khalida Niaz

Khalida Niaz is a journalist with the Tribal News Network based in Peshawar, Pakistan. She was amongst a group of editors and managers taking part in a course r...


Change at the top for the foundation

Thomson Foundation has announced that Nigel Baker, chief executive since 2012, will retire from the role in July 2021. Nigel has led a significant growth in ac...


Solutions to create trustworthy journalism in a crowded digital world

As journalists today, we are operating in a toxic digital environment where it can often be difficult to distinguish a fact from a lie. The media environment,...


Championing burgeoning talent in a year we will never forget

Announcing the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award finalists #TFYoungJournalist If we don't come, hunger kills us, says a Venezuelan merchant as h...


The backbone of professional and independent journalism

The media situation in the Western Balkans is deteriorating as a result of repeated attacks on media freedom and systematic undermining of the profession. The c...


Breaking news: Award shortlist reminds us why journalism matters

On World News Day, we reveal the 12 shortlisted entrants for the #TFYoungJournalist Award, highlighting just why #JournalismMatters. From Brazil's record y...


Tackling underrepresentation of women in media

Trying something new can be a daunting experience, especially when nobody has done it before. The residents of Mardan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) prov...


Through the lens: Chronicling daily life and the challenges of Covid-19 in Syria

In his beloved city of Damascus, Syrian photojournalist, Hasan Belal, captures daily domestic scenes, confronts the challenges wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic ...


Bettina Peters (1963-2020)

There has seldom been a greater force of nature than Bettina Peters in the world of international media development. A steely mind and no-nonsense cheerfulness...


Empowering women in Pakistan's rural communities

Progress in bringing womens voices into media has been slow and has been further reduced by local traditional structures that often favour men. Pakistani enumer...


Patsy Robertson: a tribute

The passing of Patsy Robertson at 86 has deprived the Thomson Foundation of a loyal supporter and devoted advocate in the Commonwealth. Patsy resigned as a lon...


Photojournalists: The key to getting published and staying safe

Thomson Foundation trainer and award winning photojournalist Glenn Edwards shares his experience of covering events for national and international publications ...


Uncovering stories with a human dimension

Can journalism build a better world? Thomson Foundation has the privilege of training and working with journalists around the globe who are at the forefront of ...


Taking shots: preserving the pivotal moments of protests

Photojournalists remain crucial to our understanding of world events, providing us with front-row views that would otherwise be inaccessible. Of the most univer...


Competition: Young Journalist Award 2020 is open

One thing has been constant; since its inception in 2013, our Young Journalist Award has been cheering new arrivals in the media industry, introducing some of t...


Capturing change: strategies for safely covering protests

A massive wave of solidarity protests against racial injustice have been staged across the United States and worldwide following a series of killings in the US,...


Covid-19 training in Sudan gets smart on WhatsApp

An innovative online learning course to support the reporting of Covid-19 in Sudan has reached nearly 2000 people across all sectors of media. The course, desi...


Photojournalism: the ethical challenges to covering Covid-19

This article by Savannah Dodd, founder of the Photography Ethics Centre, uses the key principles introduced in her Journalism Now e-learning course The Photogra...


Talent pool gives advice on navigating the pandemic

Weve pooled advice from our international alumni to help journalists navigate their way through the Covid-19 pandemic. From what went wrong in the medias early...


Rwandan journalist s study route to international publication.

Rwandan journalist Christophe Hitayezu first met the editorial team from The Guardian newspaper in London as part of a study tour in a programme to support medi...


Sudan: Support for journalists in the global fight against Covid-19

A unique training course tailored specifically for Sudanese journalists has been devised to help them navigate the challenges of reporting the Covid-19 pandemic...


MoJo Challenge: When a smartphone wins in Covid-19 coverage

Lebanese-based Nisrine Ajab has won the Thomson Foundation mobile journalism challenge and five others have been commended. Nisrine, who is from Beirut, along...


A class of its own: is the e-Workshop here to stay?

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a temporary halt to face-to-face training programmes during lockdown - but prompted experiments with different types of vir...


Supporting Greater Media Independence in the Western Balkans

The Western Balkans region remains beset by political instability, corruption and a chronic lack of transparency. The national media are often captured by veste...


A coronavirus photo essay from Bologna, Italy

Award-winning documentary photographer and Thomson Foundation alumnus Marco Panzetti, achieved international recognition for his coverage of the global refugee ...


The challenges of covering coronavirus: how we can help

Journalists across the globe face unprecedented challenges to report the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak accurately and safely. The fast-moving story is presen...


Thomson Foundation's summer course - the alumni shaping media

Hundreds of frontline journalists have passed through the Thomson Foundation's prestigious summer course which aims to sharpen reporting skills and teach th...


Thomson Foundation summer course 2020: dates and details

Thomson Foundation has announced the dates for its mobile multimedia journalism programme 2020. August 10 to September 11, 2020 In this intensive five-week ...


Our Tech Challenge Winner: A Royal Visit And Much More

Patrick Obumselu, the winner of Thomson Foundations 2019 Commonwealth Digital Challenge, has been in London meeting mentors and receiving advice on progressing ...


Highlighting violence against South African women

At just 26, Robin-Lee Francke is no stranger to violence against women, having been pistol-whipped, beaten and shot at in the course of her work as a crime repo...


Working against the odds in Syria

When Waad Al Kateab began filming in an Aleppo hospital being destroyed by government forces, little could she imagine that her work would one day be nominated ...


Reporting from the heart of Iraq s deadly protests

Pesha Magid became the trusted voice from Baghdad for many of the world's broadcasters and newspapers after an outbreak of anti-government protests in 2019....


OPEN Media Hub: the story so far

A landmark project to support independent media in 17 countries bordering the European Union (EU) has been extended, as journalists tackle increasing threats to...