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Impact bond launches to drive press freedom in Europe 

Published: 11 April 2023

Launched by the Media Development Investment Fund, the Pluralis Media Anleiheb bond will back media companies providing independent reporting in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

Slovakia’s SME newspaper is published by Petit Press, one of Pluralis’ investee companies | Photo by Tom·ö BenedikoviË

New York-based Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) has launched an impact bond for media plurality with Pluralis, a Dutch company which invests in independent media in Europe, German ethical bank GLS Bank and GLS Crowd, an online crowd investing platform. 

The Pluralis Media Anleihe bond will enable investors in Germany to invest in media companies that provide independent, quality reporting across countries in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe where media pluralism is at risk. 

The bond will pay investors an annual coupon of 5%, provided through Pluralis, which has already invested €30m in Petit Press, the second largest publisher in Slovakia, and Warsaw-based Gremi Media, publisher of Rzeczpospolita, one of Poland’s most influential newspapers. MDIF said Pluralis had other investments in the pipeline in the region but that it was too early to name them.  

GLS Bank will distribute the bond via GLS Crowd, which connects entrepreneurs with people who want to use their money to invest in social-ecological companies and projects. 

With a fundraising target of €100m, the bond has already attracted commitments from a range of Pluralis’ investors and hopes to attract interest from German high-street retail investors as well as foundations and corporates, through the crowd investing platform.  

Investors, shareholders and partners of Pluralis are a range of European media companies, foundations, family offices and impact investors, including the King Baudouin Foundation, Tinius Trust, Oak Foundation, Belgian print and digital media publisher Mediahuis, MDIF and the Soros Economic Development Fund. 

Safeguarding media pluralism in Europe 

Launched as an evergreen fund by MDIF in 2021, Pluralis’ holding company model allows it to counter media ownership takeovers by governments or political actors by taking ownership positions in media companies at risk of capture, and in other media providing pluralistic voices in already captured markets. 

Its aim is to ensure people’s access to a plurality of news sources as a fundamental tenet of European democracy. To ensure press freedom and integrity, Pluralis said it did not have any involvement with a company’s editorial decision-making. 

Speaking to Impact Investor, Peter Whitehead, director of communications for MDIF, talked about the importance of independent media to provide people with fact-based news, information and diversity of opinion that he said was needed to be an engaged citizen. 

“There is a growing awareness that media pluralism is under threat in Europe. Increasing authoritarianism in parts of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe has led to a severe reduction in media diversity in countries such as Hungary, where business allies of the ruling party donated nearly 500 media companies to the control of the government; Poland, where a state-owned oil company now controls more than 600 print and digital outlets; and Serbia, where Telekom Srbija has become an instrument for increasing the influence of the ruling party on the media market in the country.” 

Whitehead said that the past decade had seen a wave of ownership takeovers across Eastern, Central and South-Eastern Europe, which had been carried out by an elite of oligarchs and politicians, often acting in concert and that there were signs that it was spreading further. 

“One of the outcomes of these captures is a reduction of the plurality of voice towards more aligned editorial in line the interests that capture the outlets,” he said. “With Pluralis, philanthropy combined with impact capital provides ‘no editorial strings attached’ equity that helps secure independent ownership of media companies at risk of capture and compromise.” 

Social impact reporting

Using the MDIF-designed social impact reporting approach, Pluralis’ impact, which includes the bond, will be measured at a micro level, focusing on the impact on individual media outlets, a meso level, focusing on the impact on media plurality, and at a macro level, focusing on the impact on society.  

MDIF also said it provided oversight of the investments made through Pluralis, published monthly management and financial reports, and took a seat on the supervisory boards of the media companies it invested in, ensuring regular contact between the investee and MDIF’s investment, legal and media advisory services departments. 

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