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Independent media around the world are in crisis. Failing market conditions, the loss of advertising revenue to big tech, and autocratic encroachment in the media sector leading to financial strangulation and policies meant to muzzle a free press have made it difficult for even the best news outlets to protect their editorial independence and remain financially resilient. In countries with high levels of government control in the media, independent journalism is in an even worse state. Besides the official state-controlled media, the government has rapidly extended its influence over large swathes of the private media sphere, pushing independent journalism to the fringes. In such captured environments, the space for independent media is dramatically shrinking, affecting the quality of information that people have access to.

In Central and Eastern Europe, oligarchic takeover of the media sphere and a flood of mis- and disinformation are further eroding the region’s information space. Donor funding through official development assistance to the media has not kept pace with these challenges, stagnating at around 0.3 percent of all official development assistance between 2010 and 2019.

To date, the private sector has not been a prominent actor in protecting information integrity and supporting independent media in developing countries and democracies under threat. Yet, given the immense challenges these countries face, their role is crucial for safeguarding independent media and addressing threats to the information space.

This report builds on research conducted in Czechia, Romania and Serbia by an international team of media experts. The research aimed to identify inspiring and impactful ways that the private sector in these countries is engaging in efforts to counter disinformation and bolster independent journalism. It sought to draw out what motivates the business community to meaningfully support information integrity, and what prevents greater involvement of this group (see Methodology in the Annex).

Key findings:

  • Despite a growing awareness that a healthy information space is essential for business to thrive, many private sector actors are hesitant to support independent journalism out of lingering mistrust and fear of government retaliation.
  • The private sector’s contribution to protecting information integrity in Central Europe has been strikingly modest. Understanding what motivates the business community and designing new models of support are crucial for incentivising private sector support.
  • There is no single, universally applicable model for unlocking private capital and enhancing the role the private sector can play in supporting a healthy information space. The particularities of the private sector, as well as the local political and economic context, greatly influence the forms of engagement and levels of support businesses can provide.
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