BIRN Albania Calls for Investigative Reports on Consumer Protection

Following a roundtable discussion between civil society organisations about consumer protection, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania (BIRN Albania) is opening a call for investigative stories.

The call is part of the project ‘Exposing Corruption in Albania’, supported by the Open Society Foundation in Albania, OSFA.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while doing investigations and writing stories on a wide range of consumer protection topics which emerged from a roundtable discussion between journalists and civil society on September 20, 2017 in Tirana.

The journalists will have about three months to dig deeper and research their ideas, and will also have the opportunity to work with experienced editors as mentors to guide them through the process of writing to BIRN’s standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closed on October 15, 2017.

Click for more information (in Albanian) about the application procedure.

Click here (in Albanian) to download application.

BIRN Cited in Balkan Media Freedom Reports

BIRN is mentioned in two new international reports on media freedom and the difficulties and dangers that journalists in the Balkans are facing in their work.

BIRN Cited in Balkan Media Freedom Reports

BIRN is mentioned in two new international reports on media freedom and the difficulties and dangers that journalists in the Balkans are facing in their work.

Violence against journalists in the Balkans is widespread, with 15 assaults in the first half of 2017, says a new report by Mapping Media Freedom, a project run by Index on Censorship in partnership with the European Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

It also mentions BIRN and the lawsuits issued against it for reporting on criminal investigations into the family assets of an Albanian judge.

“During the first quarter of 2017, the MMF database registered several trends that we find to be acute challenges to media freedom,” said Hannah Machlin, project manager at Mapping Media Freedom.

“Some European governments have clearly interfered with media pluralism. Others have harassed, detained and intimidated journalists. All of these actions debase and devalue the work of the press and undermine a basic foundation of democracy,” Machlin added.

In an article entitled Serbia and the EU: Stability over Democracy, published in EU Observer, Steve Crawshaw, senior advocacy adviser at Amnesty International and a board member of BIRN, describes the Serbian mainstream media context as dominated by pro-government voices.

“The state television news and the majority of privately owned channels provide a steady drumbeat of unquestioning support, where little to no criticism of government policies can be heard. Media ownership is often opaque, and demonising alternative voices is routine,” Crawshaw wrote.

“Pro-government headlines accused the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and KRIK, the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, of being ‘liars’ and ‘mercenaries’,” he added.

Suggesting that the EU is prioritising stability over democracy or human rights, the article quotes Dragana Zarkovic-Obradovic, the director of BIRN Serbia, who said: “They are allowing [President Aleksandar Vucic] to poison the public – and that will backfire. He is feeding [them] all the worst things, and destabilising the country.”

Crawshaw concludes that “the bottom line remains: human rights and stability are not alternatives but two sides of the same coin – and the rule of law is essential for both. We cannot afford to ignore that simple truth.”

BIRN Albania Holds Discussion on Consumer Protection

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a roundtable discussion on the topic of consumer protection, attended by journalists and civil society organisations.

BIRN Albania’s roundtable discussion, held on September 20 in Tirana, was part of a programme called ‘Exposing Corruption in Albania’, which is financed by the Open Society Foundation in Albania, OSFA.
The project aims to expose corruption and abuse of power by encouraging cooperation between investigative journalists and civil society organisations, while providing editorial and financial support for investigative stories in the field of consumer protection.

About 30 representatives of civil society organisations, experts and journalists attended the discussion to talk about consumer protections topics that will orient BIRN Albania’s upcoming call for three grants for investigative stories.

The participants listed a number of areas of concern regarding consumer protection, ranging from proper labelling of imported products in the local language, problematic electricity and utility contracts, patients’ rights, food safety and bank loan contracts.

The complete list of the topics discussed will be made available with BIRN Albania’s upcoming call for investigative reports.

BIRN Cited as Source in International Reports

BIRN and its network members’ publications continue to be quoted and referenced in reports by international organisations around the world.

Balkan Insight articles on human rights, politics, social issues and media were referenced in Amnesty International reports Montenegro: Failure to Implement International Law and Serbia: Still Failing To Deliver On Human Rights in August.

In a report in September 2017 entitled ‘Risks Related to Exports of European Arms’ from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung publication ‘The Causes of Migration due to “Made in Europe” Policies’, the results of an investigation carried by BIRN and OCCRP, Making a Killing: The 1.2 Billion Euro Arms Pipeline to Middle East, are cited.

Also in September, the McGill International Review, a student-run scholarly journal and daily online publication based in Montreal, examined the “dismal state” of press freedom in Serbia, mentioning smear attacks on BIRN by Serbian political leader Aleksandar Vucic.

The article also said it was “critical” to support organisations that promote and produce “incisive, investigative reporting like the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia (NUNS) or the BIRN”.

In the Freedom House report ‘Nations in Transit 2017 – Albania’, articles published by Reporter.al, BIRN Albania’s publication, are mentioned extensively in relation to elections, public spending and other political affairs.

Investigate for ME and EU

BIRN Hub

‘Investigate for ME and EU’, a project which is being implemented by the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG) and BIRN, began in February 2017. CIN and BIRN jointly won this grant in the first-ever EC media call to be organised in Montenegro.

Summary

Through its partnership with BIRN, CIN-CG – which was established just three years ago – will strengthen its capacities, both in terms of supporting journalistic investigations and in managing an EU project.

Investigative stories about the process of EU integration are produced by the members of CIN CG team and journalists from other Montenegrin media – those that are chosen in a call for the best investigative proposals, which is already open. They will deal with the biggest challenges in the country’s negotiations with the EU, including corruption, the rule of law, and environmental issues.

Western Balkans Countering Violent Extremism Training Initiative

BIRN Hub

Summary

The overarching objective of this initiative is to contest extremist narratives in the public discourse, in particular those disseminated online, throughout the Western Balkans. The specific objectives of this project are:

–        To equip critical voices with the skills, know-how and resources to challenge extremist narratives.

–        To encourage critical evaluation of extremist messages by the most vulnerable groups and the general public.

–        To improve policies and practices in the region in handling and responding to online extremist content.

The project adopts an iterative approach, involving a wide range of stakeholders in discussing needs, gaps and opportunities to challenge violent extremist narratives online, followed by the development and testing of prototypes of effective digital solutions and tools to enhance counter-messaging content production and distribution and to strengthen resilience against violent extremism.

Actions will be aligned with national Countering Violent Extremism strategies, with partnerships formed with mainstream media, public institutions, technology companies, and private investors, with the aim of influencing policies and practices in contesting extremist narratives online.

Exercising the Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia

BIRN Hub

“Exercising the Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia” is a project intended to increase public awareness on issues of access to justice and contribute towards more transparent and more responsive institutions in these three countries.

Summary

The regional project will result in three country-based and one cross-regional analysis, the first of its kind, offering a regional perspective on the accessibility of public institutions in the Western Balkans.

BIRN Film on Wartime Home Swaps Gets TV Premiere

BIRN’s new film ‘Your House was My Home’, about how war forced villagers in Serbia and Croatia to exchange homes with each other to save their lives, premieres on Al Jazeera Balkans on Tuesday.

‘Your House was My Home’, which tells how Serbs and Croats from Kula in Croatia and Hrtkovci in Serbia swapped houses and moved to each other’s villages after the outbreak of war in 1991, has its television premiere on Al Jazeera Balkans on Tuesday at 5.05pm local time.

The half-hour documentary follows the stories of two of the villages’ residents – Goran Trlaic, who left Kula for Hrtkovci, and Stjepan Roland, who left Hrtkovci for Kula.

Before the 1990s conflict, Kula was predominantly populated by Serbs, while the majority of the people in Hrtkovci in Serbia.

Since the end of World War II, they had lived peacefully together – until the first multi-party elections in 1990, when nationalists came to power and minorities were not welcome in either republic anymore.

A series of threats and violent incidents started a chain reaction as increasing numbers of inhabitants of Kula and Hrtkovci exchanged properties so they could escape to safety.

This was described by officials as ‘humane relocation’, but it was actually a forced population exchange in the midst of a war.

“There has never been ‘humane relocation’ except in the heads of nationalist leaders and their devastating policies in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia,” said the film’s director, Janko Baljak.

“Relocations of this kind were carried out forcibly and left unimaginable consequences on the lives of people and on relations between nations who lived in peace and harmony before the war,” he added.

The personal recollections in ‘Your House Was My Home’ show how this forced population exchange had a devastating long-term effect on the lives and relationships of ordinary people from both villages, said Baljak.

“The duty and obligation of engaged documentary film maker is a continuous fight against short-term memory,” he said.

See more information about the film here.

“Missing you…”

“Missing You…” is a documentary that depicts the suffering and reality facing people who lost family members during times of peace and war.

Apart from the search for the missing, the film describes how identification through DNA analysis is conducted and lists the governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in seeking missing persons.

The fate of those who went missing during war and peace is the same. The documentary shows how to alleviate the suffering of people who are searching for their family members, both at the regional and international level.

The documentary is available on Detektor.ba and BIRN YouTube Channel.

The Silent Scream

“Silent Scream” is a documentary that depicts the trauma that sexual abuse victims still feel twenty years after the end of the Bosnian war.

Featuring the testimonies of women and men who survived sexual abuse during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as neighbouring countries, the documentary aims to encourage all victims to report the crimes they experienced and speak up about what they went through.

Experts, NGO representatives and judicial institutions appear in the “Silent Scream.” They describe the problems victims have to deal with and explain what witnesses have to go through when trying to prove that incidents of sexual wartime violence occurred.

The documentary is available on Detektor.ba and BIRN YouTube Channel.