BIRN Articles Quoted in International Reports

Articles and reports published by BIRN in recent months have been quoted and referenced in various European publications about media, minorities, democratisation, foreign fighters and radicalisation.

BIRN is quoted in the ‘Reporting Crisis in South East Europe: Case Studies in Six SEE Countries’ report series by the South East European Network for Professionalisation of Media, published in August 2017, for its media monitoring on issues like censorship and self-censorship, and also mentioned for its investigative reporting achievements.

BIRN is also quoted in ‘Building Democracy in the Yugoslav Successor States:  Accomplishments, Setbacks, and Challenges since 1990’, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, Christine M. Hassenstab, and Ola Listhaug from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and published by Cambridge University Press in May 2017.

Around 20 different articles published by BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight over the last five years are quoted in the book.

The report ‘Radicalization and Foreign Fighters in the Kosovo Context – An analysis of international media coverage of the phenomena’, published in June 2017, quotes Balkan Insight and Prishtina Insight articles about the role of online propaganda in Balkan jihadi environments and recruitment, and court cases against Kosovo terror suspects.

“Since 2014, the high proportion of foreign fighters from Kosovo and challenges related to radicalisation have been extensively covered by international English-language print and online media,” the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs says in the publication.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), established by the Council of Europe, an independent human rights monitoring body specialised in questions relating to racism and intolerance, published a report about minority rights in Serbia in May, which quoted a number of Balkan Insight articles from recent years.

BIRN and Kosovo Women’s Network to Monitor Gender-Based Violence

July 2017 marks the beginning of a new initiative to monitor gender-based violence cases in Kosovo. BIRN and Kosovo Women’s Network officially joined forces on July 21st, when representatives from KWN offered a training for BIRN monitors on the best practices for monitoring how gender-based violence is treated in Kosovo. Special focus will be given to domestic and sexual violence against women and girls.

The overall objective of the project is to ensure justice, protection, and rehabilitation for the victims of gender-based violence. Bearing in mind that in Kosovo, women and girls are significantly more affected by different forms of violence just because of their gender, BIRN and KWN will work on mitigating gender-based violence and make up for the poor performance of institutions that are accountable for them.

This project was inspired by the latest findings on the status of gender-based violence in Kosovo conducted by KWN. The latest investigations conducted by BIRN reveal that local institutions have failed to properly offer their services in sensitive cases such as gender-based violence, resulting in women who are victims of such acts receiving little or no support at all from responsible actors. Hence, in order to support victims, BIRN and KWN will begin regularly monitoring these cases to prevent the relevant institutions from manipulating and mistreating them.. The institutions that will be monitored as part of this project include courts, prosecutions, the Kosovo Police, social work centres, and other relevant institutions that exist to properly treat cases of gender-based violence.

The aim of the project is to increase accountability of these institutions while treating cases that include gender-based violence, as well as to increase the awareness of citizens and institutional representatives on the importance of reporting and offering support to victims. Parallel to the implementation of the project, both networks openly invite all citizens to report institutional breaches they run into, or have previously witnessed, if an institution has disregarded or mistreated cases related to gender-based violence. The project is supported by the Austrian Development Agency.

“There won’t be European integration without free press”

Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, director of BIRN Serbia, about media freedom in the region.

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) – a think tank focused on South-East Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus – considers media freedom a strategic topic in the region.

After attending the Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Series in Trieste from July 10 to 12, 2017 as part of the “Media Freedom: a very European issue” panel, the organisation gathered opinions from media practitioners in the Balkans on the issue.

Among them was Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, director of BIRN Serbia, who said that media freedom should not be underestimated. “There won’t be European integration without free press,” she pointed out.

Dubrovnik to Host BIRN’s Investigative Journalism School

Dubrovnik and its stunning coastline will be the setting for the BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting in 2017.

The school brings together some of the world’s best journalists and trainers for six-days in Mlini, a fishing village on the outskirts of the UNESCO-recognised city.

Between August 20 and 26, reporters will have the opportunities to learn cutting-edge investigation skills while enjoying the delights of Adriatic Sea.

Reuters’ editor Blake Morrison, three times finalist for Pulitzer investigative award, has been appointed lead trainer, and will be joined by multiple-award-winning reporter/editor Miranda Patrucic from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Henk van Ess, an expert in Open Source Investigative Journalism, among others.

As part of the school, you will learn how to dig for data, convince difficult sources to talk, transform your research into sparking prose and harness the power of videos.

Tutorial Summer School:

The training will provide a wealth of knowledge for both inexperienced and experienced investigative journalist. After training in the morning for all participants, break-out sessions in the afternoon will give you the choice to focus on certain, niche subjects. BIRN is also introducing working lunches, during which experienced investigative journalists will be on hand to impart their tricks and advise younger colleagues.

Investigative Story Fund:

The 30 reporters selected to take part, of which 20 will hail from the Balkans, will work together in groups throughout the week to develop an idea for a hard-hitting investigation, which will be presented to a panel of judges on the final day.

The three best story ideas will be awarded with funds ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 euros. Journalists will be guided by the lead trainer and BIRN’s investigative editor.

Croatian coast

Mlini is a pretty fishing village located 10 kilometres south of Dubrovnik, the so-called Pearl of the Adriatic.

It offers a quiet setting with stunning beaches and excellent seafood, while its bigger neighbour is internationally renowned for its fascinating history and breathtaking architecture.

Participants will have the chance to enjoy the idyllic surroundings while honing their investigative journalism skills.

Enroll now

Project for Investigative Journalism and Cooperation Between Media and Civil Society

BIRN Macedonia
For the ‘Project For Investigative Journalism And Cooperation Between Media And Civil Society’, BIRN Macedonia is working with NGO representatives and journalists to build and foster efficient links between media and non-governmental organisations with the goal of creating greater visibility for the NGOs and creating an environment for the production of more relevant investigative stories.

Donor: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Summary

The project aims to support investigative journalists by giving financial support and providing a space for their stories to be published. The project is part of the USAID programme for strengthening independent media in Macedonia and is implemented in partnership with Center for Civil Communications, Center for Investigative Journalism – SCOOP Macedonia, TV magazine KOD and daily newspaper KOHA.

The project, which was launched in December 2012, has several different elements including fostering links between journalists and NGOs, training of NGO representatives, and supporting journalists to investigate and publish their stories.

Macedonia’s media are troubled by many challenges. The closure of independent and critical media, increasing pressure and government control over numerous media outlets and the rising trend of self-censorship have led to a journalism guided by the political and business interests of media owners and limited space for objective reporting, which has almost wiped out investigative reporting. At the same time, professional journalistic standards are largely ignored.

With this project, BIRN Macedonia is promoting and seeking to strengthen the relationship between the media and NGOs by identifying priority issues of common interest. Ten debates on different topics between journalists and NGOs are included. The goal is for the participants to identify the topics that need to be tackled.

BIRN Macedonia is supporting investigative journalism by opening 11 calls for investigative stories. More than 50 journalists will be awarded financial support for in-depth investigations on specific topics. The selected journalists will be provided with mentors from BIRN and partner organisations who will guide the journalists through the investigative process.

The project provides for the publishing of stories written by the selected journalists on a separate website designed for the project, but also via other media. The website will not only serve to publish the stories but also function as a database for NGOs and experts in various fields which journalists and NGO representatives can use to get the information and contacts they need.

BIRN Macedonia together with its partners will provide training and expertise for the NGOs and media through 10 workshops so they create a common language, and also train the NGOs to achieve higher visibility in the media.

Together with the KOD TV magazine, 17 investigative programmes will be created in the framework of the project.

In addition, the comprehensive databases and research on issues of wider interest will be published.

The project was initiated by BIRN Macedonia in 2012 and was supported by USAID.

Information Sheet

Main Objective:

To bridge the current gap between journalists and non-governmental organisations on issues of public interest.

To build operational and efficient partnerships between CSOs and media as the base for more objective journalism and a more informed public.

Specific Objectives:

Establish partnership relationships between media and CSOs that will enable long-term cooperation, instead of one-off contacts on issues of public interest. Currently media tend to ignore or use the work of CSOs selectively, thus depriving the public of the big picture. At the same time, both media and CSOs have not forged any strong ties or cooperative relationships.

Achieve greater visibility of the work of CSOs and in turn greater media legitimacy; design a line of communication between media and CSOs, so CSOs can arm journalists with necessary reporting information in the public interest, helping their professional, fact-based, and objective reports, resulting in more professional journalistic stories.

Support public interest journalism by improving journalists’ skills, capacities, tools, information and offering financial resources for in-depth and investigative reports, as well as space for the publishing of their stories, the project aims to create a pool of investigative journalists, create a web platform and contribute a significant number of reports on key issues.

Provide the public with better and more substantial information as the basis for making informed decisions (in their private lives, businesses and as members of society), raise public awareness on key issues and stir up debate.

Main Activities:

Identifying media and CSOs’ common issues through a series of public debates between journalists and CSO representatives.

Research on the current media coverage of the identified common issues through an in-depth monitoring of the way Macedonian media and journalists report on these issues

Creating a common language for CSOs and media through 10 workshops for CSOs.

Technical assistance to Macedonian journalists in reporting on important issues in a more professional, fact-based and objective way.

Providing journalists and CSOs with space for reporting issues of common interest and for offering citizens important information.

Sharing information and news reporting materials with other Balkan countries.

Delivered outputs:

17 debates on topics of public interest

10 workshops for cooperation between journalists and civil society organisations

11 calls for investigative stories

More than 100 CSO representatives involved in the project’s activities

2 media monitoring reports on reporting on topics of public interest

16 journalists awarded with scholarships to participate in BIRN’s Summer School for Investigative Reporting

4 complex databases developed

17 TV investigations produced

55 investigative reports supported through the calls for investigative stories

24 databases with analysis on given topics

Over 150 investigative reports published on the website prizma.mk

1 interactive web application developed

Target Groups:

Journalists and CSOs from Macedonia

Highlights:

The investigations that originated from the project have received numerous awards and acknowledgments for investigative journalism in Macedonia, such as, the Nikola Mladenov award, the Jashar Erebara award and the European Union award for investigative journalism, to name a few.

The database ‘Skopje 2014 Uncovered’ was awarded the best investigation for 2015 by the Macedonian Media Institute. The BIRN Team received the Nikola Mladenov award for investigative journalism for this investigation.

The 2016 winner of the Nikola Mladenov award was the KOD Team for the TV investigation ‘The Case of Kosta Krpach’, which was supported by the project.

‘Skopje 2014 Uncovered’ was also awarded the second prize for investigative journalism in 2015 by the EU Delegation in Macedonia, while Boris Georgievski was awarded the first prize for ‘Dossier Telecom’, published on Prizma.

BIRN journalist Vlado Apostolov won the Jashar Erebara award for investigative journalism from the Association of Journalists of Macedonia in 2016 for the investigation ‘Dossier Zdravev’.

The database on agricultural subsidies was awarded the best investigation of 2016 by the EU.

The database ‘Foreign Investments Uncovered’ is shortlisted for the Global Data Journalism Award for 2017 in the Small Newsroom category.

Investigative Reporting to Boost Reforms 2016-2019

BIRN Macedonia

BIRN Macedonia, in partnership with the Center for Civil Communication and NGO Info-centre, is implementing the project Investigative Reporting to Boost Reforms.

Donor: European Union

This project’s aim is to create a core of well-skilled investigative journalists, as well as a network of effective grassroots CSOs from all over the country which should contribute towards improved investigative journalism both through their work and through cooperation between journalists.

Various activities will be implemented in the scope of this project such as media monitoring on qualitative and quantitative assessment of investigative journalism in media reporting; an intensive, module-based, training programme on investigative journalism into government accountability; regular mentorship and coaching of investigative journalists; an award competition for investigative stories, with the winners sent to participate in regional conferences or schools to share experiences and to network; public debates on the role of investigative journalism; sub-granting to additional CSOs for smaller projects, training and mentoring of local CSOs in the preparation of open databases for important issues on a local level; preparation of additional open databases on important social processes and issues on the national level; a series of workshops to increase cooperation between journalists and CSOs to benefit investigative journalism; establishing a pool of CSOs and journalists who will advocate for greater transparency, accountability and responsibility on the part of the authorities.

The project envisages delivering the following results: increased quality and credibility of investigative journalism by improving journalists’ skills, capacities, tools and access to information for in-depth and fact-based reports; building operational and efficient partnerships between CSOs and the media to provide greater availability of information based on thorough and replicable investigative journalism; introducing CSOs to the concept of open databases to boost their activities and create resources for investigative journalism and their own further actions, and to provide the public with better and more substantial information upon which to make informed decisions.

The period of implementation of the project is 2016-2019. This project is funded by the European Union.

 

BIRN Network Activities and Achievements: 2015-2016

BIRN strives to empower people to access their rights by providing accurate and relevant information and creating opportunities for them to participate in democratic processes.

Through high-quality reporting and by creating a pool of skilled journalists, BIRN examines and scrutinises key processes, steers debates and provides the public with impartial and reliable information.

The BIRN Network also monitors and advocates for the transparency and accountability of public institutions and enables civil society organisations, CSOs, and citizens to influence decision-makers.

BIRN Network: 2015 to 2016

In 2015 and 2016, members of the BIRN network operated in a challenging environment which was marked by authoritarian tendencies among political elites, political turmoil, economic difficulties and deteriorating media freedoms. Political and financial pressure on the media, the refugee crisis, violent outbreaks in Macedonia, the long-term economic crisis and accompanying high unemployment, and high levels of corruption are just some problems that countries in the region have experienced.

Through investigative, analytical and specialised coverage of underreported topics such as war crimes cases, the flow of public money, cases of potential and/or verified corruption, problems within justice systems, media freedoms and ethics, and security issues etc., BIRN continued to play an important role in providing people in the Balkans with access to accurate information.

Furthermore, the BIRN Network has organised training sessions and carried out monitoring and advocacy initiatives, thus strengthening the capacity of journalists, civil society and citizens to understand and deal with challenges facing their societies. These efforts were amplified through direct work with vulnerable groups, creating databases enabling access to important documents, through partnerships with CSOs and local administrations, and via organised debates and conferences.

Activities and Achievements

Publishing, Republishing and Broadcasting

Through its 13 websites BIRN directly reached almost 5 million people in 2015. The number of people reached through TV and radio programmes, print media and republications is difficult to estimate.

Our texts were republished or quoted thousands of times, including very influential regional and international media (such as CNN, AL Jazeera English, the Independent, the EU Observer, Newsweek, and the Guardian) across all continents.

BIRN journalists won 15 awards in 2015 and 10 in 2016 so far. In May this year alone BIRN won 7 prestigious journalism prizes.

BIRN’s investigations often provoked strong political and media reactions, including around 20 direct changes.

  • In Albania, for example, an investigation published by BIRN Albania on the eve of the local elections in June 2015 brought to light the fact that some mayoral candidates had criminal records in EU member states. The report pushed the government and the opposition to agree on the so-called law on decriminalisation, which was passed by the Albanian parliament in December 2015. The law bans the election or appointment to public office of people with a serious criminal background. Elvis Rroshi, former Mayor of Kavaja, a town in central Albania, resigned in May 2016 after admitting to having been convicted in Italy – the first major casualty of the decriminalisation law. The mayor was arrested in June for using forged documentation to hide past criminal convictions.
  • As a result of investigations by BIRN Kosovo’s flagship TV programmes Life in Kosovo and Justice in Kosovo, in 2015 alone one official was dismissed, one suspended, three resigned, three investigations were initiated, one official warning was sent by the prosecution service, and one contract annulled. BIRN Kosovo’s report on how the prime minister’s son won a tender from his fathers’ office to fix the PM’s car was quoted in Reuters and other international media prompting the son to give up the contract.
  • Following an investigation produced as part of the Paper Trail for Better Governance programme – a joint BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo project – into the privatisation of MDI, Montenegro’s largest arms exporter, an anti-corruption watchdog from Montenegro has filed criminal charges against Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.  Within the scope of the same project, Austrian prosecutors are reviewing evidence uncovered by the same BIRN investigative journalism programme about an offshore company suspected of being involved in bribing an Albanian official at the now bankrupt Austrian construction company Alpine Bau.
  • Following publication of a story about women in Romania and Bulgaria enduring low pay, long hours and gruelling work to make clothes for luxury Western clothing brands – produced as part of BIRN Hub’s Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence 2015 programme – Labour inspection issued three fines for one of the factories in Romania.
  • Since its release in May last year, documentary film The Unidentified, produced as part of BIRN Hub’s Balkan Transitional Justice programme, has been screened by more than 10 regional film festivals. This has set a new record for documentary production in the region as The Unidentified is the most screened film by Balkan film festivals.  A screening was also hosted in February 2016 by the US Congress Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights, the body responsible for informing US policy in the area of human rights. This was the first time that a film from Serbia was screened in the US Congress with numerous diplomats, civil society representatives and other stakeholders attending.
  • BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina journalists monitored 157 war crimes cases heard by the State Court, 86 trials at local courts and one case at the ICTY. In doing so, it continues to provide reliable information about war crimes trials and transitional justice issues and journalistic texts were often referenced in national and international academic and policy publications. In March 2016, wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic gave an exclusive interview for BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina published the day before his ICTY verdict. The interview gained a great deal of attention from the local and international media and was republished in around 270 outlets in the region and across the globe, including the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph, NBC News, the EU Observer, etc.
  • Following a series of investigations by BIRN Serbia into the accreditation of higher education institutions, the Commission for Accreditation and Quality Control announced the suspension of accreditations and a review of procedures.

Training

In 2015, BIRN organised 90 training and workshop sessions with a total of more than 900 attendees across the region, including journalists, local government members, and CSOs. Training covered journalistic topics (investigative techniques, data journalism, freedom of information laws, online publishing and social media networks, and election reporting) and wider social issues: transparency and accountability, public procurement, participative budgeting, the judiciary, healthcare, public administration, and open-data.

Organised training included regional programmes such as BIRN Hub’s The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. Many of the texts produced were republished by prominent international outlets, thus drawing attention among audiences beyond the region to controversial Western Balkan issues.

Through BIRN Hub’s sixth annual Summer School of Investigative Reporting, held last year in Albania, 29 journalists were trained in investigative reporting techniques. Within the joint BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo A Paper Trail to Better Governance programme, all journalists took part in on-the-job training, benefiting from specialised mentorship by one or more BIRN editors. In addition, through the joint BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo Media for All programme, 50 journalists from local Albanian and Serbian-language media in Kosovo received training. Participants produced about 120 stories during the training period.

BIRN Serbia issued its Data Journalism Handbook, the first publication of this type in Serbia. Publication of the handbook was followed by a series of workshops.

Monitoring and Debates

In 2015, BIRN published 12 policy papers/monitoring reports related to media, elections, security threats in the region, the Kosovo-Serbia agreement, the work of the courts, governmental accountability, corruption and education. They served as a watchdog mechanism for local and national governments and helped international institutions in creating regional policies and recommendations. Monitoring was in most cases followed by conferences and workshops, thus opening wider discussion about the findings and sending stronger messages to policy makers.

Seven local conferences focused on media freedom – one of the key issues in the region – were held in 2015, with more than 350 participants.  The BIRN Network celebrated its 10th anniversary in June 2015 with a regional media conference in Sarajevo. The conference featured a video message by EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn who said that media freedom in the Balkans remained “of particular concern” to the European Commission – particularly the issues of government interference and threats to the independence of public broadcasters.

A conference focused on Violent Jihadism in the Balkans as organised by BIRN Hub in March 2016 in Sarajevo. The conference, along with a series of analyses, reportage and articles published on BIRN’s regional English-language publication – Balkan Insight – was the first regional overview of the global phenomenon of radicalisation and violent extremism and provided a basis for creating policies to counter extremism.

BIRN Kosovo and its partners launched three reports examining how the 16 Kosovo–Serbia agreements signed as part of the dialogue facilitated by the European Union are being implemented in practice – this has now become known as the BIG DEAL platform. The platform received an invitation to present its findings in Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels and New York and also to regularly brief foreign delegations coming to Kosovo including MEPs, ambassadors, media representatives etc. The BIG DEAL platform has allowed both governments to produce reports on the progress of the agreements. Both governments send their representatives to sit at the same table, something that has not happened before in the region.

In addition, BIRN Kosovo produced and published two annual court monitoring reports generated from more than 1,500 court hearings. It also produced a report on public spending based on the monitoring of public tenders. BIRN Kosovo’s 35 post-election debates checked how mayoral promises made in 2013 had been delivered on. Using a new TV format filmed inside every municipal assembly, this kind of scrutiny encouraged many mayors to finish work and projects before the debates were aired. These debates also marked the first time a local journalist from the north of Kosovo, who moderated the debates, challenged mayors of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo on practical matters concerning the people. Almost all the mayors who participated in the debates were doing so for the first time in their careers and familiarising them with this mechanism of accountability was a precedent that is now established.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s monitoring of nepotism in the courts was the first to explore this important problem and opened a public debate on the work of the judiciary in general in the country. Following the report, the High Judiciary and Prosecutor’s Office changed some procedures for hiring employees. BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina plans a follow-up investigation about the issue later this year.

The results of BIRN Albania’s study on self-censorship were used to create an animated video by an Albanian artist that highlighted the findings of the study. The animated video was widely hailed in Albania and beyond as an innovative method to present research data. The video was also included in the SIDA Network Newspaper on ICT as a good example of how to use technology to promote freedom of expression.

Databases

During 2015, seven databases were created with over 500,000 documents obtained during BIRN investigations, helping citizens, journalists, researchers and policy makers to access important information previously unavailable.

Databases provide a variety of documents: scraped data used for investigative journalistic stories by the joint BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo programme Paper Trail for Better Governance (more than 400,000 documents); expenditures of all ministries since 2010; lists of public notaries with their references; state subsidies for sports since 2012; state media financing (BIRN Serbia); materials from the wiretapping scandal revealed by the opposition party in 2015;  documents related to public procurement, living standards, employment, financial results of state companies (BIRN Macedonia); and data related to local government (BIRN Albania).

In July 2015, BIRN Macedonia launched the first interactive database providing details of the government revamp of the Macedonian capital called Skopje 2014. The database revealed the number of planned and built monuments had tripled and that the price tag had risen from 80 million euros to 634 million euros by the end of 2015. In December 2015, a mobile application was launched enabling users to take pictures of built structures with the cost appearing on the screen with buttons enabling sharing via social networks. This is probably the first augmented reality mobile application ever made in Macedonia aimed at raising awareness of public spending. It has been used as a tool for fostering public debate over the need for good governance in general. In March 2016, BIRN published another big database documenting four years of agricultural subsidies worth more than 400 million euros.

Building Partnerships, Strengthening Capacities, Working with Vulnerable Groups

Through cooperation with media outlets, CSOs (200+) and independent institutions, as well as by reaching out directly to vulnerable groups, BIRN strengthened its impact in terms of promoting citizens’ participation in social and political life and more responsive working practices among public institutions.

Based on a series of articles published by BIRN Albania on a case of Roma evictions in October 2015, a group of children rights NGOs, the Ombudsman and the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner reacted and requested the municipality of Tirana take necessary measures. Based on coverage of the story, Amnesty International also released a public statement on this issue. Unfortunately, the Roma community was still evicted but the local government was put under pressure to undertake a resettlement plan for the 48 Roma families.

In 2015, BIRN Serbia, along with several online media, established the Association of Online Media. In the situation where most of the broadcast and print media in the country are under political and financial pressures from the authorities, online media has an increasingly prominent role in preserving journalistic integrity, and this association is a step in strengthening their position through cooperation and mutual support.

At the beginning of 2015, two Serbian alumni of BIRN Hub’s Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, Stevan Dojcinovic and Dragana Peco, established an investigative media portal KRIK and have, during the past 18 months, won most the major national awards for their work.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s team of journalists interviewed a number of individual victims of war and representatives of victims’ associations, such as the Mothers of Srebrenica and the Zepa Enclaves Association; Families of the Captured, Killed Fighters and Missing Civilians of Republika Srpska; Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide; Women Victims of War Association; and Association of Detainees of BiH. In cooperation with victims’ associations and prosecutors’ offices, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has continued to reach out to ‘silent’ victims.

During the process of public consultations in order to identify the main challenges to be addressed by new local governments after the local elections of June 2015, more than 80 members of vulnerable groups across the country were consulted in 10 local workshops organised by BIRN Albania. Based on these consultations, BIRN Albania conducted interviews with all the mayoral candidates in Albania’s 61 municipalities with a special focus on the promises related to concerns raised by vulnerable groups, such as the Roma community, people with disabilities, etc.

Advocacy

Advocating improvement of transitional justice policies in the region and more accountable and transparent governance formed an important part of BIRN’s work in the previous year.

The BIRN Balkan Transitional Justice team is a part of local initiatives in the region that aim to change government and international polices in the area of transitional justice. Editor Marija Ristic took part in the consultation process ahead of drafting Serbia’s war crimes strategy and she is also engaged in a coalition of NGOs dealing with the past in the region that aims to coordinate all transitional justice efforts on a local level, both governmental and non-governmental.

Throughout 2015, BIRN Serbia’s Participative Budgeting programme was implemented in 10 Serbian municipalities, with the results incorporated in budget laws for 2016. More than 15,000 citizens directly participated in the process of budgeting for 2016 through structured pre-budget consultations. The overall goal of the action was to provide mechanisms for public participation in decision-making.

In order to strengthen participatory democracy and accountability in local governance in the 2015 municipal elections, BIRN Albania carried out a consultation process with more than 150 CSO representatives, activists and community members. Based on the consultation results, interviews were conducted with 102 mayoral candidates in the country forcing them to take public positions on important issues identified in their own communities.

Media Freedom

The difficulties faced by journalists and media outlets in the Balkans during 2015 were illustrated by campaigns launched by political elites and pro-government media against BIRN members. Media freedom assessments carried out by international organisations frequently highlighted BIRN’s role in safeguarding professionalism and integrity within journalism across the region.

The European Parliament expressed its concern about a culture of self-censorship among journalists in Albania in its draft resolution on the country’s progress in 2015. The concerns expressed by the MEPs follow a study published by BIRN Albania in October 2015 on the roots and causes of self-censorship among local journalists. The European Parliament “deplores that the Balkan Investigative Regional Network, an independent and investigative media outlet, has been threatened with a defamation case, following its investigations into the criminal past of a mayoral candidate during the local elections in 2015”.

In reports on the media situation in the region, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Fund for the Balkans all referred to the case of BIRN Serbia which was at that time facing attacks by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić after publishing an investigation into a state-owned energy company. The European Commission strongly rejected “baseless claims” by the Serbian PM that BIRN is being funded by Brussels to spread lies to destabilise his administration.

At the meeting organised in April 2016 in Sarajevo by the South East European Media Observatory, BIRN was praised for good practice in journalism and described as being among only a few media outlets in the region serving as role models. The panellists said that the issues that usually affect media integrity include problematic and non-transparent ownerships, politically-controlled advertising and non-transparent state advertising.

BIRN directors and editors took part in numerous international conferences about the media, highlighting not only the difficulties media outlets in the region face but also the achievements of investigative journalism initiatives and the plurality of alternative media voices.

In August 2015, BIRN Macedonia Country Director Ana Petruseva presented to Western Balkans leaders and EU officials gathered in Vienna as part of the Berlin Process a message from civil society activists urging Western Balkan states to continue modernisation processes both in their own states and in the wider region.

Journalism Awards

Journalists from the BIRN Network won the most prestigious national awards in their respective countries and a number of international awards in 2015 and 2016.

2015: Fifteen awards for BIRN team members  

  • Two BIRN Albania journalists won first prize in the 2014 EU Investigative Journalism Award for Albania (announced in 2015) for a series of articles on the recruitment of Albanians to fight with violent jihadists in Syria. Another BIRN Albania journalist won third place for the investigation into the use of public funds by the previous government to denigrate the leader of the opposition.
  • A BIRN Albania journalist was awarded the 2015 CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merit in Investigative Journalism in the professional journalist category for covering complex stories about human trafficking, organised crime and child abuse, corruption and national security.
  • BIRN Kosovo won seven different awards: Editor of Life in Kosovo won an award “Vangush Gambeta” by the Union of Albanian Journalists for the investigation Isa Mustafa’s Sons Win Tenders of the Prime Minister Office.

Journalist for Justice in Kosovo program was awarded “Best Journalist of 2015” by the Association of Journalists of Mitrovica. TV cameraman for BIRN was awarded “Best cameraman of 2015” by the same association.

Life in Kosovo and KALLXO.com won second place for investigative journalism from the EU for their programme Scandals of Doctors with Stents.

BIRN Kosovo team won another three awards by the Association of Journalists in Kosovo for 2015: “Best Culture Story” for the article Prizren Ruled by Hotel Owners; award for the category “Best reportage” won by producer for Justice in Kosovo programme for the story Cannabis Made in Kosovo; Cameraman of Justice in Kosovo won “Best filming” award.

  • The BIRN Serbia team won the 2014 Jug Grizelj award for its contribution to investigative work. The awards were announced in February 2015. A BIRN Serbia journalist won the 2014 Investigative Journalism Award, given by the Independent Association of Journalists in Serbia and announced in May 2015.
  • The Macedonian Media Institute awarded three investigative stories from BIRN Macedonia and BIRN HUB fellows. The winning stories were Skopje Landfill Tender Winner: No experience, no Investment, Dream of Luxury Hotels Vanishes in Macedonia, and The pollution in Skopje – Crime without Culprits.

2016: Ten awards won in the first six months of the year

  • A 2015 alumna of the BIRN Hub Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme received a commendation from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in Albania, UN Women, for the “creation of a professional model of investigative journalism for the reporting on trafficking of women and girls”.
  • BIRN Macedonia journalists won the prestigious Nikola Mladenov award for investigative reporting for the Skopje 2014 Uncovered database and the series of investigative reports about the grand revamp of the capital.
  • A BIRN Serbia journalist scooped first prize for the best investigative journalism story in Serbia’s print media. The award was given by the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia, NUNS, and the US Embassy in Belgrade.
  • The documentary film The Unidentified – produced by the BIRN Hub Balkan Transitional Justice programme won the best short documentary award at the South East European Film Festival in LA. The film investigated the commanders responsible for brutal attacks during the Kosovo war.
  • The Albania’s Judges Wealth Escapes Scrutiny investigation by BIRN Albania won first prize in the EU Investigative Journalism Award 2015 for Albania.
  • A BIRN Serbia journalist won first prize in the EU awards for investigative journalism in Serbia for the Pumping Out the Pit and the Budget article, while third prize went to a joint BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo story revealing how a multi-million-dollar road construction contract was quietly handed to a consortium with little highway-building experience linked to controversial Serbian businessman Zvonko Veselinovic.
  • BIRN Macedonia won the first and second prizes in the EU awards for investigative journalism for the series of articles related to the Telecom dossier and for Skopje 2014 Uncovered respectively.
  • The second prize in EU Investigative Journalism Award 2015 for Kosovo was awarded for the story The friend of Lushtaku benefits from Vala published on BIRN Kosovo’s Gazeta Jeta ne Kosove .

Strengthening the BIRN Network

In 2015, the BIRN Network started developing and adopting standards that help the organisation improve internal cooperation and strengthen network rules and regulations.

As part of that process, BIRN has continued to establish systems for the transfer of knowledge within the growing organisation, strengthening capacities of its current staff, setting up digital infrastructure, further development of BIRN Ltd., improving monitoring and evaluation processes, adopting important internal documents, developing an intranet and archive, conducting internal audits for all offices, and implementing more than 10 online services across the network, ranging from online survey tools, to easily embedded galleries, and an audio repository. All network members took an active role in all of these activities, ensuring effective contribution to improving internal procedures and internal sharing of knowledge and expertise.

More than 100 BIRN journalists have been trained within the network via formal and on-the-job training. Moreover, the BIRN Network has focused on enhancing the organisation’s performance and viability by strengthening capacities of its current staff and by bringing on board new team members that will further professionalise the organisation.

During 2015, BIRN has been developing a set of editorial documents/procedures that will determine the roles and obligations, define the standards (journalistic and ethical), and standardise journalistic training across the network.

In addition, BIRN initiated analysis of existing network rules and regulations and the development of templates for certain uniform documents/acts that are used in the work of network members. So far, Financial Rules, Administrative Rules and an Anti-Corruption Policy have been drafted and shared with network members for further improvements. Human Resources Rules, Disciplinary Procedures for BIRN Network members, a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct Standards will be also developed.

In the second quarter of 2015, BIRN began setting up its digital infrastructure in order to launch the intranet in all regional offices and the BIRN HUB office by June 2017. By December 2015, the intranet network was set up in three offices: Belgrade, Pristina and Sarajevo. During 2016, the same structure should be set up in Skopje and Tirana. Once all five offices have fully functional and connected intranets in their offices, network-wide filing systems should be also be brought into use.

The BIRN Network celebrated its 10th anniversary from June 12 to 14 last year with a regional media conference in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, followed by series of team-building events, meetings and workshops on Mt Vlasic, bringing together more than 100 employees from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia.

Finally, during 2015 the BIRN Network invested effort in further improving its monitoring and evaluation processes. Through a series of meetings and workshops, BIRN developed its Network-Wide Monitoring and Learning System, which includes a comprehensive system of monitoring and learning for the network, including overall guidance, clear and realistic definitions of what is to be achieved, how the programmes and projects will be monitored and roles and responsibilities in this process.

Prosecutor Launches Probe after Watching BIRN TV Report

Following a report in an episode of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ‘TV Justice’ programme, the Bosnian state prosecution opened an investigation into the rape of a 15-year-old during the war.

A state prosecutor opened an investigation into the rape of the 15-year old after watching a ‘TV Justice’ episode in which the injured party told BIRN BiH about what she had gone through in Bratunac in 1992.

In the November 2014 episode of ‘TV Justice’, the victim, who identified herself by the initials K.E., said she was taken from Srebrenica to Bratunac, as a 15-year-old, and raped several times in abandoned houses. You can watch the full story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPvPA8_UK9Y

Her emotional testimony caused the prosecutor to seek her out, initiate an investigation and, ultimately, file an indictment against Sasa Cvetkovic, whose trial at the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina began on July 11.

The indictment alleges that at the beginning of June 1992, Cvetkovic hit and brutally raped K.E. in an abandoned house in Bratunac.

It further alleges that K.E. was brought, along with two other girls, to the house earlier that day from the Sase Zinc and Lead Mine, where Bosniak civilians were being held in detention.