BIRN Albania in Call for Investigative Reports on Environment

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a roundtable on environmental hotspots, bringing together journalists, civil society organisations and experts.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania launched a call for investigative stories on the theme of environmental hotspots on June 20.

The call forms part of the program “Fostering Transparency through Investigative Reporting”, supported by the Open Society Foundation in Albania, the Balkan Trust for Democracy and National Endowment for Democracy.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while doing their investigations and writing their stories on organized crime.

The journalists will have about three months to dig deeper and research their ideas, and will also have the opportunity to work with experienced editors as mentors to guide them through the process of writing to BIRN standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closed on July 9th.

Click for more information (in Albanian) about the application procedure.

Click here (in Albanian) to download application.

Four Broadcasters Dominate Serbian Media, BIRN Shows

New research by BIRN and Reporters Without Borders highlights the extent to which the Serbian media space has become dominated by a handful of boadcasters and media companies.

The biggest threats to media pluralism in Serbia are the concentration of audience and political influence over the media, according to research conducted by BIRN and the German branch of Reporters Without Borders.

BIRN and Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday also presented the website http://serbia.mom-rsf.org/rs/, which contains the database with information about media ownership and audience shares.

According to the research, 62.35 per cent of the audience in Serbia is shared between four broadcasters that own seven channels.

These are the national broadcaster, RTS, and its regional subsidiary in Vojvodina, RTV, TV Pink, then TV Prva and B92, both owned by Antena Group, and TV Happy.

Television stations Pink and Happy are often accused of displaying pro-government bias.

A similar situation exists in print media, where 63.27 per cent of the audience is shared between the Ringier Axel Springer company, that publishes two daily tabloids, then Adria Media Group, that publishes the daily Kurir, Insajder Tim, which publishes the pro-government paper Informer, and Novosti, a company in which the state remains the largest individual shareholder.

According to BIRN Director Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, the tabloids in Serbia are growing in influence and are “flourishing without a real economic basis”.

BIRN Programme Coordinator Tanja Maksic said that the research revealed the growing discrepancy between national and local media.

“The national media are getting a bigger share of public space and finance, while the local media remain unregulated, underfunded and prone to illegal practices, untransparent ownership and dealings,” Maksic said, according to Beta news agency.

Reporters Without Borders coordinator Nafisa Hasan said the research helped reveal the weaknesses of Serbia’s media sector, which is economically drained and susceptible to political influence.

Journalist Vladimir Kostic, who worked on the Serbian media database, which contains 48 broadcasters, said that even in newspapers with a long tradition such as Politika and Vecernje Novosti not even the employees know for sure who the owner is.

He added that there are no clear data on how much money from the state budget is spent on financing media content.

Media against Hate Workshop in Poland

Mirna Buljugic, executive director of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, took part in a Media Literacy Training session organized by the Community Media Forum Europe, CMFE, at the University of Warmia and Mazury, in Olsztyn, Poland, from June 7th to 9th.

The focus was on freedom of expression and respect of human rights, specifically of Muslims, in the media, including discussing the portrayal of Muslims in the European media and highlighting the main issues and recommendations for improvement.

At several workshops, journalists learned more about how to recognize hate speech and become aware of the legitimate boundaries between freedom of expression and human rights.

Buljugic shared her own experience in the Bosnian media, talking about biased news coverage in which reporting still reflects national and religious identity.

A growing problem in BiH, she noted, is hatred that is spread via the online media, especially in the comments sections of online news portals, since no adequate mechanisms exist either to prevent or sanction such abuses from occurring.

BIRN Albania Holds Roundtable on Environmental Hotspots

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a roundtable on environmental hotspots, bringing together journalists, civil society organisations and experts.

BIRN Albania’s roundtable on environmental hotspots held on June 13 in Tirana was part of a programme called ‘Exposing Corruption in Albania’, which is financed by the Open Society Foundation in Albania, OSFA.

The project aims to expose corruption in the financial industry by bridging the gap between civil society and investigative journalists, in order to uncover abuses of power, abuse of client trust and abuse of regulations.

About 16 representatives of non-governmental organisations and journalists discussed the topics to be investigated, which ranged from the health concerns linked with legacy environmental hotspots, new urban garbage incinerators, the switch in strategy on urban waste treatment, the lack of certification of laboratories maintained by government watchdogs and the oversight of big polluters.

Participants at the roundtable also listed poor recycling management in the capital and waste water treatments in coastal towns as topics of concern.

The topics highlighted by the NGOs will be listed in BIRN Albania’s upcoming call for investigative stories about environmental hotspots.

BIRN Wins Four EU Investigative Journalism Awards

The 2017 regional scheme of the EU awarding investigative journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey, for the best investigative stories published in 2016, has come to an end.

The three-year award scheme established by the European Commission following the EU Enlargement strategy, aimed at monitoring the reform processes and keeping alive the historic momentum towards EU accession, has thus been concluded.

This year, BIRN won four awards, in KosovoSerbiaMacedonia, and Albania.

The outcome of the three-year scheme, implemented in 2015, 2016 and 2017, has been 64 awards for investigative stories produced by 88 journalists across the region.

The winning stories were selected from a total of 679 nominations.

The organisers noted the prominent place BIRN won for itself over the three years of the award scheme.

“Balkan Investigative Journalism Network (BIRN) and centers for investigative journalism (CIN) operating in several countries of the region were featured prominently among the awarded investigative stories (receiving a total of 18 out of 64 prizes awarded). It points to the role of independent, non-profit investigative journalism centers and networks in production of quality investigative journalism in the region”, the organisers wrote in the press release.

Balkan Fellowship Journalist Elvis Nabolli Wins Investigative Award

Elvis Nabolli, a 2016 fellow in the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, has won the award for best article by young investigative journalist, as part of the part of EU Investigative Awards in Albania.

Nabolli won for his article produced as part of the fellowship ‘An Albanian War on Drugs,’ published by Balkan Insight.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of the media implies a commitment to democracy, good governance and political accountability. These are some of prerequisites for a country to become part of the EU and one of the reasons why each of you play such an important role in creating EU standards,” said Jan Rudolph, Head of Political, Economic and Information Section announcing the EU Investigative Journalism Awards.

The Award ceremony was held on June 7th, 2017, at the European Union Info Center, Tirana. A total of 28 investigative stories were nominated for this year’s EU Award in Albania, 18 of whom from journalists under 35. Jury consisted of five prominent media professionals and civil society representatives: Rrapo Zguri, professor of journalism and jury chair, Aleksander Cipa, head of Union of Albanian Journalists, Valbona Sulce, media expert and member of Steering Council of public broadcaster, Lutfi Dervishi, media expert, and Adi Krasta, TV personality.

Valbona Sulce, member of the jury, stated that the jury faced a difficult task, given that the quality of nominations was good, covering a wide range of topics that are relevant to the society. In addition, the predominance of young journalists among the nominations received is also a good sign for the future of investigative journalism in the country, she said.

Resonant Voices Workshops Begin Across Balkans

A series of interactive workshops has started in five Western Balkan countries aimed at enabling critical voices to respond to dangerous messages and radicalisation online.

In cooperation with CIJA US and Talk 2.0, BIRN has organised workshops in Skopje, Tirana, Pristina, Belgrade and Sarajevo with the participation of more than 80 activists, journalists, bloggers, educators, religious communities representatives and other online and offline influencers in order to help them develop online communication strategies to respond to dangerous content.

The training sessions were led by Sanjana Hattotuwa, special advisor at the ICT 4 Peace Foundation, and Sarah Oh, a US-based communication expert, while participants also had the opportunity to hear from Facebook experts and Balkan-based organisations such as Sbunker, Halakate, Helsinki Committee, Vidiovo, Hocu.ba, Istinomer and others.

“In recent months we have seen increased propaganda, hate speech and calls for violence online, which in some cases like in Kosovo or Macedonia resulted in physical attacks on prominent activists and political figures. In parallel, there is a global trend to curb free media, either through fake news or economic and political pressure. In a circumstances like this, we believe our initiative will help local stakeholders to respond to these negative trends in a timely and proper way,” BIRN’s project manager Marija Ristic said.

Workshops were held under the umbrella of the Resonant Voices Initiative – a project implemented by the CIJA US, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and Talks 2.0.

The initiative aims to challenge extremist narratives in public discourse throughout the Western Balkans – in particular those disseminated online – and to equip critical voices in the target countries with the skills, know-how and resources to counter radicalisation, the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters and violent extremists and other dangerous trends.

It will also empower a diverse group of civil society actors – activists, journalists, bloggers, educators and other online (and offline) influencers – to become resonant voices, able to counter violent extremism, to push back against extremist propaganda and to increase and amplify alternative, positive messages.

To learn more about the project, follow the Resonant Voices Initiative on Facebook and on Twitter.

BIRN Holds ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ Workshops

Forty local civil society representatives attended two workshops in Belgrade in May as part of the “Public money for public interest” project, which is being implemented by BIRN Serbia in cooperation with the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia and Slavko Curuvija Foundation, and financed by the European Union. 

The workshops focused on education in the fields of defining the public interest in the media and monitoring the flows of public money in the local media.

The first workshop from May 15-17 gathered 14 organizations across Serbia that were interested in learning how to include citizens in the process of defining, implementing and monitoring the public interest in the media.

Through practical work, participants had chance to familiarize themselves with conditions and obstacles related to the implementation of participatory projects.

The second workshop, entitled “Research techniques and monitoring public money in the media sector,” ran from May 24-26.

Twenty CSO representatives were introduced to basic models and mechanisms on how public money is spent in the media sector. During the workshop participants acquired skills that will enable them to monitor the effect of spending public money on media content creation.

Both groups of participants will have an opportunity to continue working on the “Public money for public interest” project as researchers or as grantees in further project phases.

Nataliya Apostolova Urges Kosovo Law Students to Vote at a Forum Organized by BIRN Kosovo

On May 30th, students from the University of Prishtina’s, UP, Faculty of Law engaged in a discussion with the Head of EU Office in Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, moderated by BIRN Kosovo Executive Director Jeta Xharra. 

During the discussion, Apostolova provided a comprehensive overview of the relationship between Kosovo and the EU. She also congratulated Kosovo on its continuous commitment to advancing its path towards EU integration.  

Apostolova, a firm believer that education remains a key driver of a democratic state’s long-term competiveness and growth, said that Kosovo should focus on improving the quality of education. Students presented their concerns about Kosovo’s current situation as one of the most isolated citizenship regimes in the world in terms of freedom of movement. Apostolova responded by highlighting the importance of visa liberalization for Kosovo’ citizens, and she confirmed the EU’s full support on further advancing this process. However, she noted that Kosovo should fulfill the remaining criteria, including the finalization of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, which is a condition for visa liberalization. The EU remains committed to Kosovo’s European future, she emphasized, and the EU is eager to see Kosovo seize this opportunity.

The guest speaker urged the participants to make use of their fundamental right to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.  It remains within the citizens’ responsibility, Apostolova said, to uphold Kosovo’s democracy by casting their choices for the political leaders. The failure to vote, she continued, not only implies consent to the existing public officeholders’ governance, but also equates to forfeiture of any right to complain about the current government officials, regardless of how incompetent or corrupt they might be.

The interactive debate was part of BIRN Kosovo’s series of forums organized in collaboration with the UP Faculty of Law.

 

 

BIRN Albania Trains Journalists on Crime and Court Reporting

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a three-day training session on May 19-21 in the city of Durres, which aimed to sharpen the skills of local reporters in court and crime reporting. 

The training was made possible with support from the USAID funded “Justice for all” project.

About 15 journalists from Tirana and across Albania participated in the three days of training, which provided a guide to the court system in Albania, basic methods and techniques of court reporting and the access to court records through the freedom of information law.

The training also focused on the definition of the public interest angle while reporting judicial and criminal cases, protection of sources and whistleblowers and the best practices in the region and internationally on court transparency.

The training aimed to strengthen the skills of mid-career journalists to report from the courts and the prosecutor’s office in Albania as well as from other law-enforcement institutions.

Presentations were given by Dorian Matlija and Irena Dule from the Respublica legal centre in Tirana; BIRN Albania editor Besar Likmeta and Flutura Kusari and Elira Canga – authors of an upcoming guide on crime and court reporting to be published by BIRN Albania.

A special presentation for the attendees was held by the Chief Justice of the Court of Korca, Admir Bilishta, who explained the new role that court press officer will have in granting journalists and the public greater access to documents and verdicts.

The three-day workshop will be followed by on the job training and mentoring for the journalists by BIRN Albania editors, which will commission and publish reports from the judiciary as the country gears to implement a key reform of the justice system.