Critical journalism and free media

Projects for an informed, open-minded public

1. January 2018

Over the past few years, many people have experienced growing doubt about the credibility, reliability and independence of traditional media. The reasons for it are the subject of controversial debate.

Various phenomena are cited as reasons for this mistrust: the range of possibilities for individual research offered by the new media, polarising social media debates, the economic interests of party-affiliated media groups that neglect high quality standards, and not least defamations by populist groups and politicians (“Fake news!”). Even before these developments, ERSTE Foundation already recognised the need to foster critical journalism and teamed up with partner organisations to establish various fellowship programmes. In the future we will not limit our activities to South-Eastern European countries but increasingly focus on Central and Eastern Europe as well.

Reporting Democracy

Across Europe, populist movements are changing the political landscape and eroding faith in democratic institutions. In some countries, regimes have cracked down on independent media, the judiciary and civil society. They have rolled back progressive social policies and demonised minorities and migrants. Amid rising nationalism, euroscepticism, far-right extremism, inequality and disenchantment with globalism, they have brushed aside values at the heart of the European project: pluralism, multilateralism, respect for the rule of law. The result is Europe’s biggest political transformation since the end of the Cold War. At stake are not only the liberal democratic foundations of the Western postwar order. Many fear for democracy itself as authoritarian alternatives enter the mainstream.

Reporting Democracy is a cross-border journalistic platform dedicated to exploring where democracy is headed across large parts of Europe. It wants to unleash the power of independent journalism to scrutinise the issues, trends and events shaping the future of democracy in Central, Eastern and Southeast Europe.

In addition to generating a steady stream of features, interviews and analytical pieces by country-based correspondents, Reporting Democracy supports local journalists by commissioning stories and providing grants for in-depth features and investigations. Many articles are translated into local languages and available for republication through a growing network of local media partners.
A broad range of experts from leaders in policy, civil society and academia comments on issues within a geographical focus that spans Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, from the Baltic Sea to the Aegean.

Correspondents are based in the Visegrad Four countries – Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland – as well as in the Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia.


Reporting Democracy offers grants to journalists in Central, Eastern and Southeast Europe to pursue in-depth features or investigations on issues affecting democracy in Visegrad Four countries and the Balkans.

In the focus are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia.

Reporting grants are available for in-depth features, investigations or analysis articles. Cross-border grants are available for individual journalists or teams with ideas for in-depth features or investigations with a substantial cross-border element.

The amount of the grant depends in each case on the complexity of the project.

Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence

Since 2007 the fellowship programme has supported investigative, high-quality journalism in South-Eastern Europe. It is organised by ERSTE Foundation in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

Members of Macedonia’s new Special Prosecution, set up to investigate high-level crime, give a news conference in Skopje. Prosecutor Lence Ristoska is second from the left. Photo: © BIRN

Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence





The programme aims to foster high-quality reporting and encourage regional networking among journalists. By helping to enhance their skills and knowledge, in particular on topics related to European policy, we want to enable them to provide more in-depth information to the public in South-Eastern Europe. Furthermore, we want to spark interest among the fellows in the work done by the media in their neighbouring countries.

Each year, the jury selects ten experienced journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. The three best articles are awarded a prize at the end; along with the other articles, they are published in numerous high-quality media.

Milena Jesenská Fellowships for Journalists

The fellowship programme is designed for journalists who want to pursue in-depth research on a topic related to European cultural issues. Founded by the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) and the European Cultural Foundation, the fellowship is supported by Project Syndicate and ERSTE Foundation.

Milena Jesenská (1896–1944), whom the programme is named after, was an outstanding Czech journalist, writer and translator of her time who was murdered at the Ravensbrück concentration camp because of her political resistance.


Institute for Human Sciences (IWM)

More information:
Project website

Journalism prize “from below”

journalism prize “from below”

Armutskonferenz (Austrian Anti Poverty Network), Magyar Szegénységellenes Alapítvány (Hungarian Anti-Poverty Network), Macedonian Platform Against Poverty, Reteaua Nationala Antisaracie si Incluziune Sociala / RENASIS (Romanian Network Against Poverty and for Social Inclusion), Evropska mreža protiv siromaštva – Srbija (European Network Against Poverty – Serbia), Hrvatska mreža protiv siromštva (Croatian Network Against Poverty)

More information:
Project website


The journalism prize “from below” was developed by the Austrian Anti Poverty Network (Armutskonferenz) in Vienna in 2010. Each year, it is awarded to journalists who do justice to the various facets of poverty, treat those affected by it with respect, help to make their voices heard and their realities visible and shed light on the causes of poverty. The jury is exclusively made up of people with experience of poverty, which makes this a particularly special prize for the laureates.

Supported by ERSTE Foundation and the European Anti Poverty Network, it has been rolled out to other European countries since 2015. Countries that have awarded the journalism prize for sensitive media reporting on poverty, which does not offer a cash prize, to date include Hungary, Croatia, Finland and Iceland. Macedonia, Serbia, the Slovak Republic and Romania have also expressed their interest in hosting the award.