BIRN Serbia Holds ‘Public Money’ Workshops and Training

Two evaluation workshops, for researchers and local partners in BIRN Serbia’s ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ project, were held from April 19 to April 20 at the Park Hotel in Belgrade.

From April 18 to April 20, additional training was held at the same venue for civil society organisations on the topic “Public participation in the process of defining, implementing and monitoring public interest in the field of local public information”.

Five local civil society representatives attended the training course. The main goal was to provide participants with skills and knowledge in the field of participatory processes in order to include citizens in the process of defining, implementing and monitoring public interest in the media.

Three of the five organisations will have the opportunity to continue working on the ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ project as subgrantees.

The evaluation workshops were organised in order to find out how organizations and researchers included in the project saw the processes in which they participated.

The training and the evaluation workshop for local partners were held by a consultant on the ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ project, Radmila Mikovic.

During the evaluation, seven local partners gained insight into the changes that result from the implemented project initiatives in their local communities. They also discussed the challenges they faced and ways to overcome them.

The evaluation workshop for researchers was held by Tanja Maksic and Lada Vucenovic from BIRN. During the workshop, the researchers analysed their own progress and talked about new skills and knowledge which still need to be acquired.

‘Weak’ Serbian Media Can’t Resist Political Pressure: Research

Serbian media outlets’ economic weakness means journalists are vulnerable to pressure on their reporting, suggests new research conducted as part of a project involving BIRN, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation.

Serbian media’s economic unsustainability and dependence on the authorities for advertising, combined with a poor professional culture and a lack of protection and financial security for journalists, allows politicians to exert control over media organisations, according to the research published on Tuesday.

According to the findings of the research, conducted by the Slavko Curuvija Foundation as part of a project with BIRN and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, pressure usually comes from the authorities and political parties, then from editors, and then advertisers.

The executive branch exerts the strongest effects over journalists’ work, the research suggested.

“The minister calls the managing editor or the ‘Dnevnik’ [daily news show] editor or deputy, or someone from the PR service calls, you never know who, but they do it non-stop,” said one journalist working for Serbia’s public broadcaster, RTS.

Another journalist interviewed for the research said that “the [president’s] office dictates who should not be invited as a guest”.

The research was conducted through an online survey of 177 journalists and 10 in-depth interviews with employees of various media that showed indications that they had been exposure to strong pressures from outside or within.

Of all the journalists polled, 69 per cent said they encountered at least one form of pressure from the authorities. Over half of them – 56 per cent – encountered pressure from political party representatives.

Editorial pressure was experienced by 47 per cent; 41 per cent faced pressure from management, a third from the advertisers and 30 per cent from the media owners.

Institutions and parties obstructed journalists by refusing to provide them with information, while officials turned down requests for statements and interviews, and expressed displeasure with media coverage, according to the survey.

Journalists also reported “systemic discrimination” against their media organisations, which included the denial of public funds and not receiving invitations to public events.

Over half of the journalists surveyed said that their outlet or its reporters had been publicly denounced by officials.

According to the survey, officials also insisted that the media publish, change, or withhold certain information about them or their institutions or parties, while almost half of the polled journalists faced open insults from public officials.

Forms of control exercised by editorial staff included turning down offers of coverage of certain topics and requesting coverage of topics with no professional justification.

Around a third of the surveyed journalists also reported cases of editors turning down already finished reports, plus distortion of the tone of reports and headlines to make them either positive or negative.

When it came to pressures from management, most commonly reported were requests for preferential treatment of advertisers in daily reporting.

Journalists also reported requests for covert advertising –publishing promotional content disguised as a journalistic report.

Around a third of the journalists surveyed reported that management interfered with the selection of topics to be covered and which assignments were given to which reporters.

Management also demanded preferential treatment for certain political subjects, called for some stories not to be published, and interfered with the selection of sources, the surveyed journalists alleged.

Other forms of pressure included the dismissal of employees and demands to support certain electoral campaigns, according to the survey.

Journalists further reported cases of advertisers threatening to pull their ads, reneging on their financial obligations, and requesting covert advertising – promotional content made to look like a journalistic report.

BIRN Serbia Launches ‘Info-Hub’ to Aid Civil Society

New website will contain documents relevant to budget spending in the media and hopefully serve as a valuable resource for the media, civil society and other stakeholders interested in use of public money.

BIRN Serbia, the Independent Journalists’Association of Serbia and Slavko Curuvija Foundation launched new website – kazitrazi.rs, as part of the joint project Public Money for the Public Interest.

All materials created within the project, such as handouts, manuals, case studies, multimedia, articles, etc, will be available on this website.

The info-hub will also contain documents relevant to budgetary spending in the media sector, data collected by the Research Team and reports produced over the course of the project.

“Tracing public money in Serbian media sector is of special importance as this money, for most of the local media, is the main source of survival,” said Tanja Maksic, program coordinator of BIRN Serbia.

“Partisan and non-transparent allocation leads to corrupt practices and abuse of public funds. In the long run, it diminishes fair competition and pushes media towards propaganda, rather than reporting in the public interest,” she added.

“That is why it is highly important to have effective monitoring tools as well as to engage the broader civil society community in this issue.”

The info-hub is envisaged as a resource center for all interested stakeholders, particularly in civil society, and as a unique platform where all relevant data can be easily accessed.

The website will be updated regularly through the duration of the entire project and will hopefully serve as valuable information source for all stakeholders interested in this topic.

BIRN Serbia Holds Media Content Financing Debate

There is a problem with official financing of media content on the local level because of lack of transparency and allegedly favouritism displayed tender commission members who evaluate the projects, a BIRN Serbia debate heard on December 13.

The debate in Novi Sad was moderated by Nedim Sejdinovic from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (IJAV), and the panel included Tanja Maksic from BIRN Serbia, journalist Denis Kolundzija, legal consultant Milos Stojkovic, and Dubravka Valic Nedeljkovic from the Novi Sad School of Journalism (NSSJ).

It was organised as part of the Public Money for the Public Interest project that BIRN Serbia is implementing with the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS) and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation (SCF).

The aim of the debate was to present information gathered by BIRN, IJAV, SCF, IJAS and NNSJ about the deficiencies of the project-based co-funding system, as well as to propose possible improvements to address these problems.

The panelists said that there was what they described as political control of state funding allocations to local media, and that certain media were being favoured above others.

But there is rarely money for sensitive and marginalised groups, they agreed.

“A large amount of public money is allocated to the media through non-transparent individual income processes, which according to the law is provided for in emergency cases, but reality shows that rarely are these projects urgent interventions,” Valic Nedeljkovic said.

The idea of project-based co-funding is good, and should not be discarded despite its problems and misuses, the panelists said.

“The alternative is that state absolutely stops having a financial impact on the media sphere, which is not possible, or to going a step back and letting local governments distribute money without any public participation,” Sejdinovic said.

BIRN Serbia and Juzne vesti Train Local Journalists

BIRN Serbia and website Juzne vesti organized a two-day training course for journalist working for local websites.

The training course was held as part of Digital Media Action for Freedom of Expression in Serbia project for journalists from local websites Danas, Maglocistac, Pressek, Forum Info and Bujanovacke.

During the two day, participants had the opportunity to learn how to write for online media, how to pick the right topics and how to find the most interesting ways to present their stories.

BIRN Serbia and Juzne vesti editors gave mentoring support to journalists working on investigations, and future cooperation between the participants was agreed.

BIRN Serbia and Juzne vesti are jointly implementingthe Digital Media Action for Freedom of Expression in Serbia Programme.

The programme offers website optimisation, editorial standardisation, training in investigative and analytical journalism, mentoring support for journalists, the development of public and social network profiles, and content exchange and cooperation on the local and national levels.

The programme continues for six months and includes four local websites in Serbia – Maglocistac, Pressek, Forum Info and Bujanovacke.

BIRN Serbia Hosts Cultural Event on Social Media Impact

BIRN Serbia and Our Endowment: Civil Society House organised a cultural evening in Kragujevac to examine how social media influences and changes people’s lives.

The event on November 20 began with the one-person play ‘Laura, Please’ performed by young actor Nikola Rakocevic, before a public debate about social media’s impact on everyday life.

‘Laura, Please’, produced by group Laura2000, deals with the issues of loneliness and love in the digital age.

After the play, BIRN editor Slobodan Georgiev, radio journalist Miroslav Miletic and marketing and IT expert Anita Pratljacic debated the role of modern technology in society and how traditional media needs to change.

The panelists agreed that there is no place for dialogue in traditional media, and that’s why discussion have thrived on Facebook and Twitter.

For a lot of people Facebook is the internet, and journalists should adapt to that fact, they said.

“Bearing in mind the expansion of fake news, people should be very careful when consuming news on the internet. People need to start checking information that is provided to them,” Georgiev warned.

Pratljacic explained that that traditional media didn’t find the way to adapt to new trends and technologies.

“Although social networks have their bad sides, they can also be the trigger for some good things. They are the place where people communicate and organise in order to bring change to their communities,” she said.

The event, the first of many that will be held all over the Serbia, was supported by Interaktiv and pressek.rs, local organisations from Kragujevac.

BIRN Serbia Hosts New Government Media Strategy Debate

BIRN Serbia, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation organised a debate on November 23 about the Ministry of Culture and Information’s new media strategy.

The debate in Belgrade brought together nearly 30 NGO and media representatives from the local and national levels.

After a delay of a year, the Ministry of Culture and Information has begun work on the media strategy, which should frame and strategically position the development of the Serbian media sector in the upcoming five years.

In the summer of 2017, the ministry assembled a working group to draft a proposal which could be publicly presented and discussed, before being adopted by the government.

But the working group has been dogged by controversy, recently culminating with four of its members quitting.

All the participants at the debate in Belgrade agreed that the new strategy must be fair across the media when it comes to awardeing financing.

Representatives of the media and journalists’ associations should be involved in the preparation of the new media strategy, the participants also said.

They argued that the existing media legislation is not bad, but the problem is the way in which it is used.

Tanja Maksic from BIRN Serbia said that the most important thing is that the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) must be an independent body.

“People who sit on the REM Council should be professionals. Political and state bodies should be excluded from proposing candidates for the Council,” Maksic said.

She also said that the new media strategy must ensure pluralism and a stable way of financing public media services.

Maksic argued that the strategy should envisage the creation of the state media financing registry and regulate public funds for the media as a free market development guarantor.

The debate was organized as part of the Public Money for the Public Interest project that BIRN Serbia is implementing with the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation.

BIRN Serbia Hosts State Media Financing Debate

BIRN Serbia, together with The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS) and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation organised a debate on October 20 about models and transparency of state media financing.

The debate was moderated by BIRN Serbia’s Editor Slobodan Georgiev and hosted Slavisa Lekic, IJAS’s president, Nedim Sejdinovic from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, Milorad Tadic from the Association of Independent Electronic Media, Dalila Ljubicic from the Media Association and Milos Stojkovic, a legal consultant.

The panellists spoke about the importance of the better regulation of project-based co-funding in the media sector and offered proposals for a new media strategy.

Media content that is created in the public interest needs to be better defined in the new media strategy, they agreed.

They also said that it is important to improve work of the expert commissions for allocating funds by defining the term ‘media expert’.

Talking about the regulatory body for electronic media, the panellists pointed out that it is necessary to minimise or completely eliminate the influence of the executive and legislative authority when members of the regulatory body for electronic media’s council is being elected.

The debate was organized as part of a Public Money for the Public Interest project that BIRN Serbia is implementing with the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation.

BIRN Hosts Serbian School Textbooks Debate

The complex procedure for selecting textbooks in Serbian schools must be made simpler and stricter, as currently the risk of corruption is high, a BIRN Serbia debate heard on August 31 in Belgrade.

Aleksandar Pavlovic from the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University in Belgrade pointed out that the extremely complex procedure of selecting textbooks, which should prevent corruption, gets more complicated each time a new law is adopted.

When it comes to selecting textbooks, everyone involved is dissatisfied, he argued.

“Parents, schools, ministries, private publishers, the Institute for Textbooks… all of them want better and more efficient procedure,” he said.

Irena Fiket, one of the authors of an analysis about the risk of corruption in the process of approval and publication of textbooks in Serbia explained that the complexity of the system can generate corruption.

“One of the analysis’s recommendations is to draw up a separate document in which the entire procedure for the selection and approval of textbooks, with the responsibilities of all actors, would be described in a clear and precise way,” said Fiket.

The current procedures do not solve the problem of corruption, said Eleonora Vlahovic, head of the Centre for Programme and Textbook Development.

Vlahovic added that the issue of conflict of interest is not sufficiently outlined in the Law on Textbooks.

Sinisa Jesic from the Associations of Textbook Publishers said he thinks that the procedures for selecting textbooks must be very simple, but strict.

“When the new law was adopted and when publishers were faced with the fact that not all textbooks would pass, their efforts to show textbooks in schools could have been seen in various ways and interpreted as corruption,” Jesic explained.

Milovan Suvakov, a former assistant minister at the Ministry of Education, said he doesn’t think that everyone is dissatisfied with the current system, however.

“We have actors who are pretending that they are dissatisfied because they are in a perfectly good position, which they managed to preserve in the coming period, and I am primarily referring to publishers,” explained Suvakov.

He argued that one of the biggest problems is lobbying by publishers when new documents are being adopted.

The debate was organised as part of a BIRN Serbia programme supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy.

Going Public About Corruption: Investigating Abuses of Funds and Positions

BIRN Serbia

Summary

The high level of corruption in Serbia is hampering implementation of necessary social reforms while traditional media are failing to adequately report about it, especially about corruption coming from the centers of political power.

In response to this situation, BIRN Serbia is conducting a project that contributes to anti-corruption efforts in Serbian society and reaffirming the role of media in putting limitations on corruption by exposing and opening up a wide-ranging public debate about the misuse of public funds or positions.

Donor: National Endowment for Democracy

Information Sheet

Main Objective:

To contribute to anti-corruption efforts by publicly exposing cases of corruption, abuse of public funds or posts, obstacles to access to justice which distort the application of the rule of law.

Specific Objectives:

  • The project will make an impact on current state of affairs by addressing the deficit of quality reporting about corruption, and at the same time broaden public support for investigative reporting.
  • The project will rely mostly on Internet-based resources as this is one of the forums for public debate and social interaction that is not strictly controlled by the government in power. Internet platforms are also convenient for presentation of large data sets, as BIRN investigations rely on vast research and numerous pieces of data and documents that validate the stories.
  • The project will apply a cross-sector approach, concentrating primarily on issues related to public spending and management of public resources in the judiciary system and in large state infrastructure projects. In this way the project will increase transparency and tackle some of the most opaque state-run sectors which show the least potential for reform and the largest potential for corruption.
  • The judiciary system is going through various reforms and is still largely influenced by executive powers, while national infrastructure projects are one of the most expensive endeavors to be implemented without any public insight. The project will demonstrate the practical application of data-driven journalism, which helps present complex stories based on numerous documents, pieces of data and sources to a large audience in a comprehensive way, utilizing online data visualization tools and a multimedia approach.

Main Activities:

  • journalistic production
  • creation/update of databases
  • promotion and raising awareness

Target Groups:

  • public administration
  • media, journalists, media organizations
  • the broader public

Highlights:

4 investigative stories, 2 databases

Main implementer:

BIRN Serbia