RULE OF LAW – DISCLOSED: Monitoring organised crime, corruption and terrorism cases at the Court of BiH

BIRN BiH

The programme is dedicated to monitoring and reporting on cases of organised crime, corruption and terrorism.

Summary

BIRN BiH has filled a gap in domestic journalism in reporting on and monitoring war crimes prosecutions, but there is a simultaneous gap regarding rule of law issues. This problem is evidenced by ongoing tabloid-esque coverage of organised crime, corruption and terrorism. Inadequate research and a failure to comply with ethical standards have resulted in lawsuits against publications that have concerned themselves with rule of law issues.

BIRN BiH was also the first media outlet to start to write about disciplinary procedures within judicial institutions. Until then, these cases were unfamiliar to the public, since no press statements or any other kind of information from the judiciary was made public.

By achieving its project goals, BIRN BiH successfully contributes to the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina through consistent monitoring of and reporting on the work of the domestic judiciary, thereby ensuring the judiciary’s accountability to the country’s citizens as well as harmonisation with relevant EU standards.

By establishing an editorial team trained in monitoring organsed crime, corruption and terrorism cases before the Court of BiH, the project aims to expose both good and bad practices by the country’s judiciary in regard to the rule of law; to raise reporting standards in the media, and to restore public trust in judicial institutions.

Main activities

  • Attending organised crime, corruption and terrorism trials;
  • Conducting fieldwork, collecting data and interviewing stakeholders (investigative journalism);
  • Writing and publishing analysis pieces and investigative stories;
  • Exercising public pressure via press conferences and social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube;
  • Exercising public pressure via TV shows geared towards a large viewership;
  • Judiciary and media follow-up analysis (measuring the project’s impact), followed by a set of recommendations to governmental institutions made by relevant stakeholders (judiciary representatives, journalists, academia, etc).

Target groups

  • the Bosnian judiciary
  • the wider media
  • the international community

The project benefits lawyers, judges, and staff members at state- and entity-level courts, as well as the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, the Ministry of Justice and the Court of BiH, and the general public in the country.

Bosnian Ombudsman Praises BIRN BiH’s ‘Integrity’

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the few examples of high media integrity in the country, says “Special Report on the Situation and Threats Against the Journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina” presented on August 28 in sarajevo.

Human Rights Ombudsman Jasminka Dzumhur said that the media situation in the country today is much worse than in previous years.

Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked 65th out of 180 countries in terms of media freedom and the safety of journalists last year, compared to 2006 when it held 19th place.

The authorities failed to ensure the safety of journalists, who were exposed to violence, harassment and intimidation, as well as facing unfavourable economic conditions and a lack of workplace rights.

“Attacks on journalists are attacks on democracy,” Dzumhur stressed.

BIRN BiH was mentioned in her report as a positive example of good practices and media integrity, along with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Buka Magazine and Media Center Sarajevo.

The South-East Europe Media Observatory was quoted in the report as saying that “for a number of years, these organisations have been protecting and promoting values of public service in journalism”.

BIRN Summer School Day 4: How to Scale Up Investigation

On the fourth third day of BIRN’s Summer School in Dubrovnik, journalists heard how to pitch stories, structure investigative projects and use open data.

The fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism in the historic city of Dubrovnik on Thursday started with a session on pitching story ideas, run by Lawrence Marzouk, editor with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Marzouk explained how stories can be pitched to editors without overpromising while bearing in mind the possible angle, sources and the outcomes.

“You need a clear idea; do not spread a lot of different things,“ he said.

Marzouk said journalists should try not promise too much from a story and must be realistic, but their stories have to be fresh and new, workable and possible, to explain why something is important.

“At the beginning, you should at least have a theory in your head, something you would try to prove,“ he said.

Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, continued her lecture on how to “follow the money“.

She explained how to gather publicly available information about companies and how to research their financial statements and assets.

“A financial statement summarizes the revenues, costs and expenses incurred during a specific period of time,“ Patrucic explained.

In the afternoon session, Blake Morrison, lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, advised journalists on how to pitch stories and structure investigative projects.

“You should always think of how to better communicate the story, to use the audio-video material, the data,” he said.

During the last Thursday’s session, BIRN’s Marzouk shed light on a case study about the arms trade from the Balkans and Central Europe to the Middle East.

Journalists heard how to use open data to trace and track the arms trade.

Marzouk explained that, while researching a “controversial industry” like the arms trade, journalists “have to harvest all the possible open source databases” because the industry is highly regulated, meaning that there is a lot of documentation.

During the fourth day, participants at the Summer School also continued to work on their investigation proposals that they will present on Friday.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School: The Art of Interviews and Tracing Money

On the third day of BIRN’s Summer School, journalists heard how to conduct interviews and investigate offshore industries.

On day three of the BIRN summer school in Dubrovnik, Blake Morrison, the lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held a session on the “art of interviewing” and on how to convince difficult sources to talk, describing interviews as a crucial component of the journalistic job.

The task was “how to get the information from the people. And to do it ethically,” he said.

“My philosophy on interviewing is pretty simple… Think of it as a blind date,” he noted,  explaining that the interviewee needs to “be understood.

“It’s very important to be curious. If you don’t understand something, don’t presume, ask,” he continued.

Morrison explained that there are three types of interview: information interviews, which involve collecting information on something; accountability interviews, asking a person to explain his or her acts; and emotional interviews, in which person sheds light on his or her emotional perspective.

Morrison emphasised the need for preparation and gave insight into why some people agree to give an interview: vanity, the need to be understood, self-interest, desperation, guilt and curiosity.

“I really believe as a journalist is that our commitment to honesty is crucial,” Morrison said.

The workshop on data journalism and using advanced internet research continued on Wednesday.

Henk van Ess, who works with a number of European media outlets, as well as Bellingcat, continued his training on data journalism, answering questions from the participants through stories he has covered over the years.

He showed the participants how to use open sources and social media for their investigative stories, showing the example of the work he did in tracing the ISIS executer, Jihadi John.

Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, also held an interactive lecture on how to “follow the money” and how to investigate offshore industry.

She conducted an exercise on tracking money and on shell and shelf companies through various databases, both open-source and paid-for.

“Many of offshore companies have a legitimate purpose in the business word, however, they could be manipulated by criminals to hide their crimes, money laundering,“ Patrucic observed.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School Day 2: Social Media, Fact-Checking for Investigative Journalists

BIRN’s Summer School continued on Tuesday with sessions exploring data journalism and fact-checking methods. s.

Head trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, Blake Morrison, showed BIRN Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism how to use a creative approach to fact-checking in Dubrovnik.

An interactive exercise explored the difference between supposition and proof and how to separate fact from suspicion, while determining standards for fact-checking.

Monday’s workshop on data journalism continued into its second day. Christiaan Triebert, a conflict researcher with Bellingcat, led the group. Bellingcat has achieved notoriety for its utilisation of open source information to investigate armed conflicts and corruption, and has won multiple awards.

During the workshop, participants learned about analytical tools required for data journalism, while Triebert explained the process of digital open source investigation, and how it can improve investigative reporting skills.

The middle of the session examined the capacity of geolocation tools to pinpoint exact places and how to use satellite imagery as a fact-checking tool. Triebert explained how advanced internet applications such as Google Maps can bolster research underpinning complex investigative stories.

“But you will still need traditional reporting and journalists on the ground,“ Triebert said.

Henk van Ess, who works with various European media outlets, as well as Bellingcat, also provided data journalism training, answering questions from BIRN Summer School participants about using social media as an investigative tool.

Journalists learned Facebook data mining methods, how to find elusive people through checking secret IDs, and how to discover closed groups or find people working for security agencies. In short, “how to search over two trillion Facebook postings in a clever way,“ he said.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

Eighth BIRN Summer School Opens in Croatia

BIRN’s latest Summer School opened on Monday in Dubrovnik with interactive sessions on advanced digital research and use of open data sources.

Some 35 reporters from the Balkans and across the world gathered on Monday in the historic resort city of Dubrovnik in Croatia for the eighth BIRN Summer School Master Class on Investigative Journalism.

After greeting this year’s participants, Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held an interactive exercise and discussion about the challenges of investigative reporting. Morrison shared sources and interview techniques and tips on researching complex investigations.

The first day continued with an introductory workshop on data journalism led by Christiaan Triebert, a conflict researcher with Bellingcat, a multi-award winning collective that uses online open source information to investigate armed conflicts and corruption.

During the workshop, participants learnt about the analytical tools needed for data journalism while Triebert explained the process of a digital open source investigation, research and verification, and how to use digital tools to uncover corruption and crime. “There is so much information available online,“ he said.

Henk van Ess, who works with various European media and Bellingcat, meanwhile showed how to go “fast and furious with stuff that seems impossible to validate”.

Van Ess shared plenty of practical tips to validate information from social media and other open sources.

Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters

In the afternoon, the participants were divided up into smaller groups for in-depth sessions with Reuter’s editor Morrison.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN BiH Pitches Ideas at Sarajevo Film Festival

The director of BIRN’s Bosnia and Herzegovina office, Mirna Buljugic, took part in the Sarajevo Film Festival’s ‘True Stories Market’ to pitch ideas to film-makers about possible topics for documentary movies on transitional justice topics.

Buljugic presented three pitches as part of the Sarajevo Film Festival’s ‘Dealing with the Past’ programme, all of them based on stories on which BIRN BiH has reported.

“All our pitches are about the war, but all these stories define the lives of the Bosnian people today,” said Buljugic.

The first pitch was for a documentary about Ibro Delic, a Bosniak who joined the infamous ‘El Mujahid’ unit of Middle-Eastern fighters during the Bosnian war, became a member of the Salafi movement, and who in 2013 went to Syria.

Upon his return he was convicted of terrorism, and is currently serving his sentence.

The second story was about Franc Kos, a member of the Croatian Defence Council at the start of the Bosnian war, who then transferred to the Bosnian Army, and finally in 1994 switched to the Bosnian Serb Army and took part in the Srebrenica genocide. He was convicted and is serving his sentence.

The third story was about defectors hiding in Serbia in 1995, when they were arrested and handed over to the Bosnian Serb police.

They were trained for a few months at the Jahorina Training Centre and then sent on their first mission – the Srebrenica attack of 1995. Some took part in the killings and are now serving prison time.

This is the second year in which BIRN has taken part in the ‘True Stories Market’.

Last year, a pitch from BIRN BiH about a Srebrenica man called Ramiz Nukic, who spends his days searching the woods for remains of those killed in the massacres, was picked up by Al Jazeera, which made a documentary movie which was shown at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.

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.