Media in CEE: How can we help catalyse the next wave of public interest media? | PFI at Villa Poranek, 14.06.2024

Media in CEE: How can we help catalyse the next wave of public interest media? | PFI at Villa Poranek, 14.06.2024 2048 1365 Philanthropy for Impact

On June 14 we hosted our second community gathering PFI at Villa Poranek. Bringing together over 50 philanthropists, investors, foundations and civil society experts, this event provided an opportunity to discuss a series of important topics for democracy in Poland and Europe.

The Salon held under the title: Media in CEE: How can we help catalyse the next wave of public interest media? was introduced by Krzysztof Bobiński and facilitated by Ola Walczak. The discussion highlighted the key role of free media in democracy and explored the current challenges facing the media in Poland and Central and Eastern Europe. Topics included the impact of media bubbles, the struggles of local media markets and the impact of profit-driven journalism. The panel also discussed practical steps to support independent journalism and improve media quality.

The whole summary of the discussion is presented below.

‘Free media are crucial for democracy and this is a fact, not an opinion, but still not everyone cares about them’. With this sentence, the discussion on ‘how we can help catalyse the next wave of public interest media’ began. One of the features that made this panel a special one was definitely the selection of participants, either experienced journalists from the traditional media, young journalists representing online outlets and experienced industry managers.

The discussion began with a provocation characterising the current state of the media in Poland and Central and Eastern Europe. Among the most important theses was the view that people are closing themselves in their media bubbles and using a limited catalogue of already proven information sources. The situation on the local media market, using Poland as an example, is almost tragic, and the use of private capital is not always the best option, due to the fact that wealthy individual media owners at times want to influence the content of the media outlets.

However, if we want to have access to better media, it does not just mean that they have to be better funded, but rather we should focus on building media on three important pillars. 

  • First, a concretised European law similar to the European Media Freedom Act. 
  • Secondly, the development of a pattern of working in the media on a friend-to-friend basis, rather than subordinate-to-superior, as this leads to a decline in the quality of such media.
  • Thirdly, the creation of organisations whose aim would be to support the future of the media, similar to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The introduction swiftly merged into a discussion. According to some of the participants, the traditional media outlets are in its terminal stage due to declining readership levels (only a few people out of a group of almost 20 read the distributed press on a daily basis) and reduced earnings in the industry, compared to previous decades. One participant especially emphasised the situation in the United States, where high levels of polarisation turned media outlets into confirmation bias machinery.

The readers are not interested in expanding their horizons, but rather seek approval of their preconceptions. Yet, the main objectives of the media are to provide information, and to build identity. These goals are hard to achieve under existing business models, where media have turned into enterprises whose main objective is profit, and its success indicators views and clicks. 

The discussion concluded with an argument about the distinction between media ‘workers’ and ‘journalists’. According to some participants, the latter can be called such if their sources of funding are independent of excessive influence by both the private sector and the state. One solution to protect high standards of the profession is to convince donors who previously have not been involved with funding media, that shifting their focus towards independent journalism is crucial for whatever their main goals are (be it climate, democracy, health).