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.

More than 200 participants attended the launch of the first Cambodia Media Lab
Nick Beresford, UNDP Cambodia Resident Representative gave remarks at Cambodia Media Lab
12 shortlisted candidates did public presentation at the Media Alternatives Business Challenge

After a competitive three-stage selection process, five media outlets won the Media Alternatives Business Challenge, all of which are led by women. With the support from our partners – OHCHR and the UK Embassy in Cambodia, the winners have embarked on their incubation journey. Follow this page to learn more about the program and these media heroes.


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

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.


OHCHR, UK Embassy

Project Manager

Mr Fabio Oliva, Peace and Development Advisor, UN Cambodia


Learn more about our Media Alternatives Business Challenge Here

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