Revealing Corruption Remains Challenge for Balkan Media

Reporters on corruption and organised crime in the Balkans are subject to a range of different pressures and challenges – as our comparison of reporting on such cases in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia shows.

Organised crime and corruption are among the key challenges facing the societies of the Western Balkans, with corruption in particular being a key grievance for ordinary citizens and voters.

As in any democracy, the media play a crucial role when it comes to informing the public on these subjects and shaping public debates.

The extent to which the media are able to do so objectively and independently will help the public to both better understand the scale of the problem and assess what their elected representatives and institutions, tasked with upholding the rule of law, are doing to combat organised crime and corruption.

During 2017, BIRN conducted a regional study that examined how the media report on organised crime and corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

Aside from the looking at how media report on the topic, the study also sought to unpack why media report on organised crime and corruption in the way they do.

Specifically, our study sought to identify the challenges and constraints faced by media organisations across the region when it comes to reporting on organised crime and corruption.

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BIRN to Host Regional Conference on Media and Rule of Law

BIRN will host a regional conference on access to information and media reporting on investigative and judicial proceedings in cases of organised crime and corruption on Thursday in Sarajevo.

The event will bring together representatives of the judiciary, non-governmental organisations and media representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

The conference is being organised as part of a project entitled ‘Exercising Freedom of Expression and the Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia’, supported by German Foreign Office Stability Pact funds and implemented by BIRN Hub in cooperation with BIRN Serbia and BIRN Kosovo.

In 2017, BIRN undertook a regional study which examined how the media report on organised crime and corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

As well as looking at how media report on these topics, the study also sought to analyse why media report on organised crime and corruption in the way that they do.

The study also sought to identify the challenges and constraints faced by media organisations across the region when it comes to reporting on organised crime and corruption.

The media monitoring was carried out in the period from April-June 2017 and involved six media outlets in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia respectively as well as five in Kosovo.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 72 people during this period – 29 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 22 in Kosovo and 21 in Serbia. Among those interviewed were a broad range of current or former judges, prosecutors, policemen, lawyers, editors, journalists, politicians and experts.

The project resulted in three unique country-based analyses and one cross-regional analysis, the first such study to offer a regional perspective on this topic.

The findings will be presented on Thursday in Sarajevo, together with a debate divided into three panels, including guests from the media, police and judiciary across the region, who will conduct a dialogue on issues arising from the analyses.

Mladen Lakic

Mladen Lakic is Bosnia and Herzegovina correspondent for Balkan Insight.

Before joining BIRN in 2017, Mladen worked as a journalist on several media projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Post-Conflict Research Center.

He reported on human rights and transitional justice and was awarded the Srđan Aleksić journalist’s prize in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the UNFPA BiH Award.

He has attended numerous training courses for journalists in the country and abroad.

Threats to Serbian journalists Rose in 2017

New report underlines the changing nature of threats to journalists in Serbia over the past year.

This year saw an increase in the number of threats made to media workers in Serbia sent via the internet and social networks, but also cases of surveillance.

A rise in the number of other pressures, compared to threats and physical attacks against journalists, does not indicate that journalists are safer now but that the forms of threats are changing, says a report by the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia, IJAS, published in cooperation with Civil Rights Defenders and presented on December 21 in Belgrade.

In 2017, the number of pressures recorded by IJAS amounted to 54; throughout 2016 that number was 33.

Pressures include: harassment, different forms of pressures exerted by state officials, politicians and other persons in positions of power, cases of restricting attendance or selective invitations of journalists to various public events, as well as pressures from the pro-government media on journalists and media outlets seen as critical of the authorities.

Analysis of the database shows that a large number of cases include pressures exerted by public officials, that is, representatives of authorities, from top state officials, to representatives of local authorities.

The most frequent targets of pressures are media outlets and journalists critical of the work of the government, ministers, and other state officials and local government units.

Such pressures are continuous and increasingly target journalists from TV N1, the daily paper Danas and non-profit media active in the investigative journalism such as CINS, KRIK and BIRN.

Maja Zivanovic, from BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight, recalled her own experiences from the June 24, 2016, when two men waited for her in front of her home in Novi Sad. At the time, Zivanovic worked for Vojvodina’s Investigative Center, VOICE.

“They knew when I left the apartment in the morning and I noticed them standing in front of my building. One of them started to follow me while I was walking, and the other one stayed in front of my building,” she said.

Zivanovic underlined that on that day she was supposed to meet an interviewee for her six-month ongoing investigation into corruption in a company that distributed gas in Novi Sad.

“I decided to stop and turned around and the man who followed me did the same. I noticed he had a Bluetooth microphone in his ear and then I realized I’d been followed,” she added.

She decided to go back and check whether the man who had stayed near her building had tried to enter her apartment in which she kept the documents for her report. “The man followed me back,” she recalled.

After seeing that everything was fine with her apartment, Zivanovic again left her building and once again saw the same two men. She reported the case to the police and immediately got 24/7 police protection.

“But I realized after 15 days that I can’t work under police protection and asked for it to be cancelled,” she added.

Zivanovic said the police never revealed who had followed her that day, although she was told that they have security cameras footage.

“My only protection was to continue to work as journalist,” she noted.

Zivanovic said that, despite an awareness of the risks and dangers of this profession, she still sees journalism as a “great job”.

However, she added, since the incident, she has carried paper spray and does not come back home late.

Živanović won the first prize this year in the EU award for investigative journalism in Serbia for a series of investigative articles about the local natural gas distributor, Novi Sad Gas, whose debts to the national company Srbijagas, with whom it trades gas on the free market, doubled over two years, reaching 6.89 billion dinars.

BIRN Journalist Targeted as ‘Enemy’ at Praljak Event

Balkan Insight Croatia’s correspondent has been labeled an ‘enemy’ and ‘anti-state’ journalist on the TV show ‘Bujica’, which broadcasts on local TV channels in Croatia.

Following the commemoration of Slobodan Praljak, the Bosnian Croat general who committed suicide in court after his war crimes sentence was upheld in The Hague, the Croatian TV show Bujica published a report on December 11 showing Sven Milekic, Croatia’s correspondent for BIRN’s flagship website and describing him as “enemy” and “anti-state” journalist.

“The commemoration for The Hague’s prisoner and Croatian hero went off with dignity and without a single incident. It wasn’t spoiled even by shameless characters from enemy and anti-state portals, who for years, under the disguise of journalism, wage war against all the values of contemporary Croatia and our defenders [1990s war veterans],” the report stated, showing the BIRN reporter on a clip of footage.

On December 11, 12 days after drinking poison in court, after the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, upheld his sentence, Praljak was given a heroic farewell in Zagreb in the presence of two government ministers, many politicians from the 1990s, the nationalist singer Marko Perkovic Thompson and the far-right TV star, Velimir Bujanec, co-host of TV show Bujica.

While passing by Bujanec, the anchor grabbed the BIRN reporter by the arm and said: “Security is looking for you”. He also called the security stating the journalist was ridiculing the whole event, and that he needed help “in taking him out of the hall without making a major scene”.

The correspondent was let go after a brief conversation with security, and then filmed by a journalist and cameraman from Z1 television, asking him if he “worked for Index”. 

Bujica has also singled out reporters from Index, which angered right-wing audiences in Croatia with its critical reports of Praljak’s death and the ICTY verdict, receiving multiple death threats, which also prompted police to take action.

Bujica has featured similar reports about other “hostile” journalists, activists and politicians before.

On December 1, the far-right 1990s war commander, Ante Prkacin, said on the TV show that the former Croatian president, Stjepan Mesic, should be “publicly hanged” on Zagreb’s main square for his role in the ICTY verdict on Praljak.

This is the second time far-right media have targeted Milekic. Four months ago after covering the Operation ‘Storm’ anniversary in August, a far-right news portal did a story on Milekic libeling him as an enemy.

Following the article, Milekic received threats on Facebook, which he reported to the police. He received no further information on the case.

Doruntina Baliu

Doruntina Baliu is an investigative journalist, who has been working at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), for the last two years.

She graduated, earning the title Bachelor in Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Prishtina”Hasan Prishtina”.

Her education and professional background includes numerous trainings and workshops related to investigative reporting, on many cases focusing on the education field.

Doruntina has worked in investigative articles and tv shows on different stories about corruption and has won the ‘Story of the year in education reporting” prize, for junior journalists given by the Journalist Association of Kosovo and GIZ.

BIRN Hosts Panel Discussion on Media Reporting of Corruption in Serbia

On the eve of International Anti-Corruption Day, BIRN held a panel discussion in the Serbian capital as part of a conference organised jointly with the CEPRIS on the role of the media and prosecution in fighting organized crime and corruption in this Balkan country.

More than 60 representatives of the judicary, NGOs and media in Serbia gathered in Belgrade ahead of International Anti-Corruption Day for a conference jointly organised by BIRN on the role of the prosecution and media reporting in the fight against organized crime and corruption.

The conference, which took place on December 8, was co-organised by the Center for Judicial Research (CEPRIS), the Center for Democratic Transition from Montenegro and the Croatian Legal Center, with support from the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) and the German Embassy in Belgrade.

During the event, debates were held on the election and position of prosecutors and deputies in charge of combatting organized crime and corruption in Serbia and the region, as well as access to information and media reporting on investigative and judicials proceedings in this sector and problems facing the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

For BIRN’s panel discussion on the day, representatives of the NGO presented the main findings of its Serbian country report on media coverage on organized crime and corruption.

The report was produced as part of BIRN’s project titled “Exercising the Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia,” an endeavor supported by the German Foreign Office Stability Pact funds.

This regional study on how media report on organized crime and corruption investigations and court processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia began in March 2017, with the final outcomes to be presented at a regional conference in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, in January 2018.

Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence – 2017 winners chosen!

Greek freelance multimedia journalist Alexia Tsagkari was awarded first prize for the 2017 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme at a closing ceremony in Budapest on Thursday.

Tsagkari won the prize of 4,000 euros for her exposé of the abuse facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, asylum seekers on their journey to a safe haven in Europe.

The second prize of 3,000 euros went to Romanian journalist Octavia Coman for his exploration of the complacency, bungling and discrimination that led to a deadly measles epidemic in Romania.

Third prize and 1,000 euros was awarded to Serbian journalist Vladimir Kostic for his investigation into illegal campaign financing by Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party.

Jury members praised Tsagkari for her intimate portrayal of life on the road for LGBT refugees travelling through Turkey and Greece — and the failure of host countries and the humanitarian system to protect them from appalling violence and intimidation.

“Alexia did an extraordinary job of winning the trust of one of the most vulnerable groups within an already vulnerable group,” said jury member Elena Panagiotidis, editor for Swiss daily Zürcher Zeitung. “At a time when people are fed up with refugee stories, she shed new light on the issue, and at considerable risk to herself.”

Jury members singled out Coman and Kostic for their nuanced work on difficult investigations.

“Octavian’s is a skillfully crafted story on a complex yet socially very relevant topic exposing the failure of the Romanian healthcare system through the example of a measles epidemic that has so far claimed 36 lives and infected around 10,000 people,” said Kristof Bander, deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative.

Speaking of Kostic’s investigation into the use of proxy donors to fill campaign war chests with cash from secret sources by Serbia’s ruling party, Adelheid Wolfl, correspondent for Austrian daily Der Standard, said: “Vladimir not only revealed the arrogance and sense of impunity of the ruling party, but by showing the facts, he contributed to transparency and accountability.”

Ten journalists from Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Greece spent more than six months of 2017 pursuing in-depth stories and investigations around this year’s fellowship theme: ‘Change’.

The jury congratulated all of this year’s fellows on the high level of their work, which included stories on organised, crime, corruption, public health, nationalism, the environment and human rights.

A publication titled Change: The Trials of Transition brings together their work and was presented at the award ceremony in front of guests including media partners from around Europe.

The jury members who selected the winners were Florian Hassel, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung; Remzi Lani, executive director of the Albanian Media Institute; Kristof Bander, deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative; Milorad Ivanovic, representative of the BFJE Alumni network; Elena Panagiotidis, editor for the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung; Adelheid Wolfl, correspondent for Austrian daily Der Standard; and Steve Crawshaw from Amnesty International.

With the conclusion of this year’s programme, the 10 fellows join the BFJE alumni network, which consists of more than 90 journalists from 10 Balkan countries who collaborate on stories and promote the highest professional standards.

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence was launched in 2007 to promote high-quality, cross-border reporting. The programme provides fellows with financial and editorial support, enabling them to travel, report and write their stories and develop their journalistic skills.

A project that promotes the development of robust and responsible press, the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence has evolved into a decade-long platform that has helped shaping journalism standards in the Balkans and the very careers of participating reporters.

The fellowship will issue a call for applications for next year’s programme in January 2018.

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence is implemented by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, supported by ERSTE Foundation and Open Society Foundations.