The Media Alternatives Project

Rappler, one of the most featured newsrooms in Southeast Asia was sharing their story at Cambodia Media LAB

Across the region, the media landscape and its capacity to advance freedom of expression are being challenged by the “twin crises of trust and sustainability for journalism”. Disinformation has undermined the veracity of news and damaged the trust in the media as a democratic institution. At the same time, media organizations have suffered from market pressures and constraining regulatory frameworks, while they struggle to establish sustainable businesses in a competitive and crowded environment.

In a positive development, new and alternative media experiences are emerging, which are capable of surviving, even thriving, in the most challenging circumstances. Newsrooms are being transformed into creative and innovative spaces where digital content developers, engineering and product designers, data scientists and business-savvy editors collaborate with traditional figures like journalists.

These “media alternatives” can take different forms and formats – some are for-profit enterprises that adopt new business models, while others represent creative experiments led by ordinary citizens. Technology has fundamentally changed traditional business approaches, content production, distribution, and even ownership. Quite interestingly, some of these media alternatives run revamped versions of traditional business models based on limited quality readership.

Yet, tides have not lifted all boats. In their infancy, social media and new digital platforms promised to open, promote, and advance democratic spaces for everyone. Women are increasingly marginalized in both the backend development and as content recipients. One leading media outlet in Cambodia, with more than 600,000 subscribers, confirmed that nearly 70% of their readers were in fact men. And it’s no secret that many online spaces tend to be especially toxic for women. The good news is that isolated, yet increasingly important, signs of resilience are emerging in the sector in Southeast Asia. Two examples, The Magdalene and Rappler, are both women-led and slanted towards issues important to women.

It is, however, in its citizen-enabling power that technology and social media, in particular have shown more dynamism. Celebrities, musicians, vloggers, and active citizens are using different social media to broadcast their ideas, hopes and concerns. There is, indeed, an enormous potential for new forms of digital and alternative media. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is exploring new ways to incubate and support these “media alternatives” to increase resilience and strengthen civic spaces.

Info-graphic on three phases of the media alternatives project

At the beginning of the project, UNDP commissioned Splice Media to conduct an independent ‘media market audit’ that looks at challenges and opportunities for media entrepreneurs and start-ups in Cambodia.  You can download their report here.

In August 2019, UNDP launched the Cambodia Media Lab, a series of informal events aimed to guide, inspire, and support media entrepreneurs and professionals in Cambodia. Since the beginning of the project there have been two Media Lab events and they have brought together more than 100 of the most inspiring media entrepreneurs and experts from across Cambodia and Asia. Together, we have discussed how we need to rethink business models and the very concept of media itself, how we can promote civic engagement and institutional resilience within the media, the safety of journalists both in the field and in the digital space and how new online media outlets are emerging and what it takes to start these.

Most recently the media labs have gone online and explored adaption as media responds to the challenges of COVID-19. Over 70 people joined a webinar to hear about press freedom and media resilience in 2020 from esteemed speakers; Maria Ressa CEO and co-founder of Rappler, Hannah Beech from The New York Times and Kevin Doyle, former Editor in Chief for The Cambodia Daily.

Media Alternatives Business Challenge

To promote media sustainability the UNDP Media Alternatives project designed a business challenge. After a competitive three-stage selection process, five media outlets won the Media Alternatives Business Challenge. With the support from our partners – SHE Investments, OHCHR and the UK Embassy in Cambodia, the winners embarked on a 5-month incubation and acceleration journey. During the programme they participated in training which covered; Product Development; Business Model Development; Marketing; Business Management and Future Planning.

Here are some of the highlights from the media outlets during the 5-month incubation programme:

•          All winners are female, or have female founders on the teams

•          All winners have received seed funding ranging from $3000-$12000 to use to scale a media product

•          The winners have received more than 120 hours of consulting services to ensure that the funding is used to generate new sources of income, build more engaged audiences and, ultimately, develop more sustainable media businesses

•          Two new full-time jobs created

•          Four new part time jobs created

•          All of the media winners (100% of participants) survived the 3-month crisis period of COVID-19 (March – May 2020)

•          All businesses registered their business with the Ministry of Commerce

The Media Alternatives Project Phase One commenced in June 2019 and concluded in May 2020.

The selected media winners are undergoing incubation program supported by SHE Investment

COVID 19 Response:

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNDP has been able to reach over one million people across Cambodia with fact-based messaging to address prevalent mis information and promote social cohesion, solidarity and youth wellbeing.  We were able to quickly respond to the pandemic by re-purposing the Media Alternatives Project, to inform, educate and provide support to audiences across Cambodia. Besides national authorities and other UN agencies, we have worked specifically with Cambodian Media Start Ups and Young Social Media Influencers to disseminate reliable information which has been published across TV, Social Media and billboards.

Project Objectives

1. Mapping of media alternatives and innovations in Cambodia.

2. Accelerating and scaling innovative and sustainable media alternatives in Cambodia.

3. Promoting women’s entrepreneurship and leadership in the media sector.

Project Manager

Mrs Clara Raven, Media Engagement and Partnership Specialist, UNDP Cambodia

Learn more about our Media Alternatives Business Challenge Here