BIRN Report Says Media Freedom Declining in Serbia

A new BIRN report on the state of the media in Serbia notes abuses of funding, lack of pluralism in terms of content, an unclear legislative framework and administrative pressure on independent media as some of the most concerning issues.

A BIRN report on the media in Serbia, presented on Wednesday, emphasises a decline in freedom of expression and media pluralism, citing an absence of social, political and economic conditions conducive to the development of a professional and sustainable media sector.

“This report focuses primarily on the allocation of state funds in the media sector, as BIRN’s long-term monitoring indicates that this is one of the key preconditions for the economic sustainability of media outlets, and, as such, a powerful instrument of misuse and corruption,” it reads.

According to the report, independent media and journalistic organizations monitoring the allocation of funds reported abuses in the distribution of some 10 million euros in the media sector.

BIRN has submitted the report to the EU Delegation in Serbia as its contribution to the compilation of Serbia’s next European Commission Country Report.

It was produced in partnership with the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation, as part of the EU-funded project.

The report says pluralism in terms of media content is largely missing, the media’s legislative framework is not fully implemented and administrative pressure on independent media is increasing.

Significant abuses of funds through project co-financing scheme still persists, and media are often discriminated against because of their editorial policies, it says.

Most of these issues should be deliberated through the Coordination Body, an ad-hoc mechanism established as a dialogue platform between media associations and government.

But the report says the results have been disappointing.

“So far, four monthly meetings were held and the media community submitted 13 requests to governing bodies. The success of this mechanism has yet to be proven, with mild results achieved in the previous period,” it says.

Another issue is the state’s unwillingness to divest itself from ownership in the media sector, the deadline for which expired in October 2015.

Despite this, privatisation process is still not fully finished. The daily newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti still function as partly state owned companies, while the news agency Tanjug exists and operates in a legal void, according to the report.

Originally published on Balkan Insight.

BIRN Kosovo Marks International Human Rights Day

GIZ, BIRN Kosovo and other non-governmental organisations took part in an event organised by the Ombudsperson to mark International Human Rights Day under the slogan “Stand up for human rights”.

Participants in the International Human Rights Day event, including representatives of marginalised groups and human rights advocates, made speeches at the National Theatre of Kosovo in Pristina on Monday.

Following the speeches, they marched from Skenderbeu Square to Zahir Pajaziti Square, supported by various NGOs that deal with women’s rights, children, retirees, minorities and LGBT issues.

BIRN Kosovo produced seven video clips in Albanian and Serbian aimed at raising awareness of the situation of children, youth, women, Roma Ashkali and Egyptian communities, the LGBTI community, people with disabilities and senior citizens in Kosovo.

The clips were played at the event organised by the Ombudsperson, posted on BIRN Kosovo’s KALLXO.com site and broadcast on Public Radio Television of Kosovo.

December 10 is marked around the world as International Human Rights Day, commemorating the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted at the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

Aleksandra Jankovic

Based in Belgrade, Serbia, Aleksandra is responsible for managing the social media accounts of BIRN, Balkan Insight, Balkan Transitional Justice Initiative (BTJ), Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence (BFJE), and BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting.

Before BIRN, she worked for the digital agency Homepage as a digital accountant; Pristop, consulting and communications company, as a PR assistant; and the news portal Portal Mladi as a deputy editor.

From the University of Belgrade, Department of Political Sciences she has a BA in journalism and an MA in international politics.

Aleksandra speaks Serbian, English, and German.

BIRN Bosnia Celebrates 100th Edition of ‘TV Justice’

In November this year, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina produced the 100th edition of its television programme ‘TV Justice’.

The 100th edition covered judicial institutions’ reluctance to share information and the fact that they use internal regulations to limit media access to court processes.

Problems facing journalists in their everyday work include inaccessible indictments, anonymised verdicts, low-quality recordings from trials lasting ten minutes only, and the refusal by judicial officials to give interviews or make public appearances.

All this is happening despite the fact that the Bosnian laws stipulate that trials should be public and the international standards call for transparency, which means quick responses to inquiries, as well as the availability of indictments and verdicts.

Transparency was reduced in 2012 when the Agency for Protection of Personal Data submitted letters to the state court and prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, telling them they do not have to automatically publish all data.

The state prosecution then removed all indictments from its web page, while the Bosnian state court adopted changes to its regulations on access to information, which entailed using initials instead of full names in court documents and issuing only ten-minute recordings from trials, which significantly reduced the potential for media reporting.

This meant the quality of material that could be used by electronic media fell significantly, so the format of specialist shows had to be changed.

After that BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina launched a campaign titled ‘Stop Censorship’, which was supported by international organisations and associations of victims such as the International Commission for the Missing Persons and the Women, Victims of War association.

The director of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mirna Buljugic, said the ‘Stop Censorship’ campaign was initiated because war crimes are of public interest and the public should know who was indicted for the gravest crimes. She said the campaign was eventually successful, as it was followed by a decision to change the rulebook and discontinue the anonymisation of verdicts.

“BIRN’s mission was not only to tell those stories to Bosnian citizens, but also to make an impact on positive changes in society in some way. Through our stories and stories told by witnesses, we tried as journalists to help judicial institutions reach out to certain witnesses and certain stories which could actually be translated into court processes later on,” Buljugic said.

In the 100th edition of ‘TV Justice’, journalists and editors say that judicial bodies are increasingly closed to the media, which prevents quality reporting on legal processes related to war crimes, as well as on corruption and organised crime cases.

BIRN Film Charts Rise of Serbia’s Ruling Party

A new film by BIRN Serbia, ‘SNS – the start,’ follows the origins and rise of Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party, SNS – and how it became the most powerful political force in the country.

A new film by BIRN Serbia, “SNS – pocetak, 2008” [“SNS – the start, 2008”], delves into the origins and rise of the Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, which has ruled the country since 2012.

During the making of the film, BIRN journalists talked with many  individuals from Serbian public life, but also from the US, who had a role in the creation of the SNS.

Among them are the leader of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, and his party colleague, Vjerica Radeta.

Others include Serbia’s former president, Boris Tadic, a former vice president of the government, Bozidar Djelic, a former US ambassador to Serbia, Cameron Munter, and the Balkan analyst and former US diplomat, Daniel Serwer.

BIRN journalists also spoke with the Economist correspondent and political analyst Tim Judah, from Britain.

The movie starts back in 2008, when a group of Radical Party members, then advocates of the nationalist “Greater Serbia” idea, turned into “Euro-fanatics”.

Journalists have used extensive archive material to tell a thriller-style story about how a faction composed of minor political individuals became rulers of a country.

The movie will be shown on Monday, November 26, at N1 regional television, at 8pm.

Originally published on Balkan Insight.

BIRN Editor Talks About Transitional Justice at Leipzig Conference

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina Editor Denis Dzidic participated in a conference in Leipzig, Germany for young journalists entitled ‘Correcting Images’ (‘Bildkorrekturen’) from November 23 to 25.

Dzidic spoke about the role of media in peace-building and how reporting on transitional justice topics can assist reconciliation in a post-conflict society.

The ‘Correcting Images’ conference is financed by the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation and the German Academic Exchange Service. It was organised by Engagement Global in cooperation with the universities of Munich, Leipzig and Bamberg, the German School of Journalism and the Deutsche Welle Academy.

Its aim is to promote accurate images of developing countries in Germany and to motivate the general public to contribute to global reconstruction for social justice. The conference provides a forum for dialogue on global issues between participants, especially young students of journalism and journalists from the North and South.

BIRN Holds Debate on Audit Reports in Gjilan/Gnjilane

BIRN Kosovo held its third debate on November 26 to present findings from its analysis of Auditor General’s reports, this time for the Gjilan/Gnjilane municipality.

The results of BIRN Kosovo’s monitoring of the implementation of audit recommendations for the Gjilan/Gnjilane municipality were presented in an open debate on November 26, with more than 30 representatives from the municipality, civil society and Auditor General in attendance.

BIRN Kosovo Editor Visar Prebreza gave a brief presentation of the project and its findings, which showed that of the 45 recommendations provided to the municipality, only ten have been implemented.

The Mayor of the Municipality of Gjilan/Gnjilane, Lutfi Haziri, addressed the main points of the analysis and declared that for the upcoming years, work will be done to strengthen the capacities of auditing, procurement, and finance management in his municipality.

A representative of the National Audit Office, Ilir Salihu, was also present to answer questions from the panel and the audience.

Salihu, said that such meetings contribute to inter-institutional communication, transparency, and clarifications that might be needed after the provision of recommendations.

The debate was organised within the framework of the project, ‘Support civil society to increase public oversight and accountability of Kosovo public institutions’, funded by the British Embassy in Pristina. It specifically addressed the project component that looks at the compliance of targeted institutions with recommendations of the National Audit Office.

Similar debates will be held in more municipalities in Kosovo with the aim to present the BIRN Kosovo analysis on the implementation of audit recommendations.

Every debate will be held in the municipal assemblies of the municipalities in question, and will be livestreamed by BIRN Kosovo.

BIRN Albania Holds Court and Crime Reporting Training

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a three-day training course in Tirana from November 24-26 for local journalists on court and crime reporting techniques, the transparency of the courts and mobile video reporting.

The training course was made possible with support from the USAID-funded Justice for all Project, which is implemented by the East-West Management Institute with local partners like BIRN Albania. Fifteen journalists representing all the regions of Albania attended the training course, at which advanced court and crime reporting techniques were discussed.

The workshop was greeted by EWMI Media Advisor Elira Canga, who underlined the importance of court reporting to advance Albania’s justice reform.

During the training course, the journalists were presented with the recently-published BIRN Albania report on the transparency of courts in Albania and told about techniques of how to use court websites and databases to identify leads.

The training course aimed to strengthen the skills of mid-career journalists to report from the courts, the prosecutor’s office and other law-enforcement institutions, as well assisting them to better use multimedia tools in their stories.

A special session on mobile video reporting was held during the training session by Ivana Dervishi, BIRN Albania’s multimedia journalist, at which the latest techniques of using cellphones to shoot video were presented.

The journalists who attended the three-day workshop have already been given on-the-job training and mentoring by BIRN Albania as part of the project ‘Enhancing the Transparency of Justice Reform in Albania’.

BIRN Holds Debate on Audit Reports in Prizren

BIRN Kosovo held its second debate to present findings from its analysis of municipality audit reports, this time for the municipality of Prizren, on November 23.

The outcomes of the analysis and monitoring were presented in an open debate with more than 20 participants from the municipality, the auditors and civil society, as well as local media including RTK and TV Prizreni.

Kreshnik Gashi, editor and moderator of BIRN Kosovo’s TV programme ‘Justice in Kosovo’, gave a brief presentation on the project and the findings of the analysis on the audit of the municipality.

The mayor of Prizren, Mytaher Haskuka, then discussed the situation with the implementation of recommendations from the National Audit Office.

Haskuka emphasised that the crucial issue for the municipality remains the managing of contracts with economic operators – suppliers of goods, works or services. Haskuka said the reason for this is the large number of contracts compared to the small number of directorate officials who have to deal with the contracts.

A representative of the National Audit Office, Ilir Salihu, was also present to answer questions from the panel and the audience.

Regarding the municipality of Prizren, Salihu said that activities that were planned have not been implemented, and advised that municipalities should be more careful when drafting action plans.

“I would like to emphasise an important thing… I think that neither the municipalities nor the other entities audited should draft action plans just for the sake of fulfilling a legal obligation, because the purpose of our recommendations is not to overburden the municipal or central administration with activities that are not important or necessary. So my personal advice is that when drafting action plans, [municipalities] should look at activities that are reasonable and feasible, and second, target realistic deadlines,” Salihu said.

This debate was organised within the framework of the project ‘Support civil society to increase public oversight and accountability of Kosovo public institutions’funded by the British Embassy in Pristina. This part of the project looks at compliance by institutions with recommendations in the Auditor General’s reports.

Similar debates will be held in other municipalities to present the findings of BIRN Kosovo’s analysis of the implementation of audit recommendations. Each debate will be held at municipal assemblies and will be livestreamed by BIRN Kosovo.