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The 1st EU – Western Balkans Media Days closed today in Tirana, Albania, with the European Commission announcing 7,5 million Euro of additional funds for support to improving media freedom and professional journalism in the Western Balkans.
Gathering more than 250 journalists, representatives of media organisations and policymakers, the 2-day conference dealt for the first time with economic aspects of media business and the challenge to adapt to rapidly changing production and consumption patterns.
“The precarious economic situation of media enterprises is a global phenomenon, but it affects much more the less developed media markets in countries in transition such as the Western Balkans”, Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said in his opening remarks. “Professional journalism faces also a ruthless competition from fake-news producers neglecting any commitment to quality standards and authenticity of information.”
Combined with continuing pressure on the media, the debate recognised the evolution in media landscape that includes competition, distorted markets and new business models, as key challenges.
“Media professionals have a responsibility and obligation to understand the ways people are seeking and receiving information”, Besa Luci, editor-in-chief of Kosovo 2.0 said. “It requires to also step out of the box when you are thinking of financial resources. We can no longer rely just on classical advertising and marketing, so we have to think of other ways of interacting with the audiences.”
Media freedom and improvement of the economic situation and competitiveness of media enterprises go hand in hand. “A stable economic situation is the best tool to resist political pressure. Creativity and readiness to engage in new business models is as much needed as the persistent and courageous defence of media freedom and the right of critical reporting”, Commissioner Hahn highlighted.
“There has been an explosion in technology that has allowed journalists to go directly to their readers, start up their own media and get their news out there a lot faster and cheaper than they used to”, Blendi Salaj from the Albanian Media Council said.
Biljana Petkovska, President of the Network for Professionalisation of the Media in Southeast Europe, recognised that fostering greater cooperation and the joint production from the media outlets in the region could bring more financial resources for the media players and overall more success in both programming and financial aspects.
Media freedom, a core EU value and a cornerstone of democracy, is a priority reform area in the Western Balkans' EU accession agenda, and the European Union will continue to provide support for an improvement of the media environment, through constant monitoring and concrete assistance programmes.