Documentary Co-Produced by BIRN Serbia Wins Award

The documentary ‘The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ by film-maker Dragan Gmizic, co-produced by BIRN Serbia, Al Jazeera Balkans and WWF Adria, was named the best Serbian film at the Belgrade International Green Culture Festival, Green Fest on Tuesday.

The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ follows Irma Popovic Dujmovic, a WWF Adria activist, on the road through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, discovering how the regional plan for the mass construction of small hydropower plants creates multiple new problems instead of solving them.

The destruction of the natural environment, people’s resistance against small hydropower plants and the corruption involved in their construction are some of the issues covered by the film.

The documentary was aired on Al Jazeera Balkans, and was screened at the Free Zone film festival in Belgrade.

BIRN Takes Part in Panel on Arms Control

BIRN’s Jelena Cosic was speaker on a panel entitled ‘Reviewing Europe’s Regulations on Arms Export Control: Can Germany lead by example?’, which took place on November 7 in Berlin.

The topic of panel was arms exports from Europe that end up in Syria, Yemen and Mexico, and whether Europe’s regulations on arms exports are enough to prevent war crimes and human rights violations.

The topics were discussed within the context of Europe’s regulations on arms exports, the EU Common Position.

Panellist Radhya Almutawakel, chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights in Yemen, presented cases of exported European weapons that are used in the Yemen conflict, while Sara San Martin expert from Centro de Estudios Ecuménicos from Mexico explained how Germany exported Heckler & Koch weapons to a different end-user than one one that was declared.

The moderator was Roy Isbister, team leader for arms units at the Saferworld organisation in London.

Cosic spoke about the risks of arms exports being diverted and ending up in Syria and Yemen, but also the misuse of international regulations on arms exports. The key findings came from investigations on arms exports that BIRN has published in recent years (link to http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/page/balkan-arms-trade).

The organisers of the event were Saferworld, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and PAX, Netherlands.

Documentary Co-Produced by BIRN Serbia Nominated for Award

The documentary ‘The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ by film-maker Dragan Gmizic, co-produced by BIRN Serbia, Al Jazeera Balkans and WWF Adria, has been nominated for an award at the Belgrade International Green Culture Festival ‘Green Fest’, in the Serbian film category.

The Dark Shadow of Green Energy’ follows Irma Popovic Dujmovic, a WWF Adria activist, on the road through Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, discovering how the regional plan for the mass construction of small hydropower plants creates multiple new problems instead of solving them.

The destruction of the natural environment, people’s resistance against small hydropower plants and the corruption involved in their construction are some of the issues covered by the film.

The documentary was aired on Al Jazeera Balkans, and will be screened at the Free Zone film festival in Belgrade on November 12 at 11 am, The Cultural Centre Of Belgrade.

BIRN Report Sparks Salary Declaration from Serbian MP

After BIRN Serbia reported on ruling party officials working illegally at the Medical College in the town of Cuprija, one of them, Aleksandar Martinovic, reported his income from the college, admitting he works there.

Аleksandar Martinovic, one of the officials from Serbian ruling Serbian Progressive Party who has an illegal contract with Medical College in Cuprija, as a Ministry of Education inspection has confirmed, reported his salary from the college to the Anti-Corruption Agency  for the first time after BIRN’s article was published.

BIRN Serbia published the article ‘Cuprija: Political Employment at Medical College’ on October 23 about officials from the Serbian ruling party who work at the college.

Several months earlier, BIRN asked the college about these contracts, but its director, Hristos Aleksopulos, responded that “everything is legal”.

An inspection by the Ministry of Education found that all the contracts are illegal and that the college is obliged to terminate them due to the lack of proper documentation for their employment.

However, two of them – Aleksandar Martinovic and Darko Laketic – are still on the Medical College’s list of teaching stuff for the new school year.

Martinovic, the head of Serbian Progressive Party’s parliamentary group, reported his salary as 60,000 dinars, with a start date of October 1, after BIRN’s report about him working at the college.

However, documents show that Martinovic has been working there much longer.

Beside his salary from the college, Martinovic has five more salaries from the state budget – a total of 264,000 dinars per month.

Another Serbian Progressive Party MP, Darko Laketic, reported his salary from the college for the new school year to the Anti-Corruption Agency, as he has for the past few years. However, Laketic is also among those whose contracts are to be terminated.

After BIRN published the report, there was a discussion in parliament about it, on the initiative of an opposition MP.

Martinovic and another member of the Serbian Progressive Party, Vladimir Orlic, who was also working at the college, rejected an official document from the Ministry of Education about their unlawful jobs.

At the same time as Martinovic and other Progressive Party members got their contracts, several employees of the college were laid off after their temporary contracts expired and were not renewed.

BIRN Albania Presents Baseline Court Transparency Report

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania launched its monitoring report on transparency of courts in Albania on October 30.

BIRN Albania presented its Monitoring Report on Court Transparency during a roundtable with chief justices from the country’s First Instance and Appeals Courts on October 30.

The event was organised by USAID’s “Justice for All” programme, which has supported the publication of the report.

This monitoring report assesses the transparency of all courts in the country with respect to the information categories that these institutions make public through various means of communication with citizens.

The findings aim to encourage a willingness and readiness among judicial institutions to increase their level of transparency, as well as serve as a base study for further progress assessments.

For this purpose, Albania’s Constitutional Court and 38 courts that are part of the local judicial system were monitored on 36 indicators deriving from the legal framework that is currently in force.

The monitoring was conducted by combining three different methods of data collection: on-site monitoring in each court; online monitoring through court websites; and via requests for information submitted to them.

The chief justices present during the round-table welcomed the report as a tool that will aide their staff to better serve the public and improve its access to justice.

The baseline report will be followed by another report in a year’s time, while BIRN Albania will work with the “Justice for All” programme to train court staff to the requirements of the law on freedom of information and the legal framework on proactive transparency.

Read the report in Albanian.

Read the report in English.

Balkan Transitional Justice Initiative Grants for Journalists

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network is launching a call for in-depth investigative stories on transitional justice themes in the Balkans.

Grants are offered to ten journalists to cover topics related to truth, justice, accountability, memory, institutional reform and other issues related to dealing with the past. The selected journalists will receive mentoring by experienced editors.

The call is a part of the Balkan Transitional Justice Initiative project, financed by the European Commission.

The project’s aim is to strengthen in-depth reporting on transitional justice in the Balkans, in order to contribute to a more informed citizenry that is engaged in the democratic process.

Ten journalists will be awarded €1,000 grants to cover their expenses while conducting investigations and writing their stories on transitional justice issues.

The journalists will have around 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 in accordance with BIRN standards.

The call applies to journalists from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania.

All further information regarding application process can be found in our application guidelines.

To apply, send the following documents to [email protected] with the subject “Balkan Transitional Justice Initiative grant application” by November 19th:

  • Resume (CV)
  • Letter of motivation
  • Completed application form 
  • Link to or copy of example of published work
  • Any other relevant documents

BIRN Serbia Launches Support Programme for Local Media

BIRN Serbia has partnered with Serbian portal Juzne vesti to offer support for seven selected local portals over the next two years.

BIRN Serbia and portal Juzne vesti from Nis will implement a support programme in seven local portals in Serbia for the next two years, as part of the joint project “Digital Media Action”.

The selected portals are Bujanovacke from Bujanovac, Presek from Kragujevac, Ozonpress.net from Cacak, Glas Zajecara and Zajecar online from Zajecar, SOinfo from Sombor and Loznicke novosti from Loznica.

The programme, supported by the British Embassy in Belgrade, is designed in accordance with the needs and capacities of these local media outlets, and offers support in the field of promotion, technical improvement of the websites and mentoring of journalists and editors.

Twenty-six portals applied for the support programme, with each assessed on three sets of selection criteria:

  • editorial orientations, formats and dynamics of content publishing
  • technical and personnel capacities
  • positions on social networks and in the local community

After making their choice of winning applicants, the selection committee said that the selected local portals have the potential to develop a quality daily informative production in the next two years, and to become the primary source of information in their communities.

In addition, the programme aims to modernise local media outlets, help them to develop a social media strategy, and find a self-sustaining business model.

BIRN Serbia Joins Initiative to Protect Personal Data

BIRN Serbia and more than 40 civil society organisations are calling for the country’s Law on Personal Data Protection to be amended to better protect the public.

BIRN Serbia has joined more than 40 civil society organisations in their call for parliament to amend the country’s draft Law on Personal Data Protection to clarify that citizens’ rights to data protection can only be limited if there is a legal basis to do so.

The initiative is being led by the SHARE Foundation, an NGO working to advance human rights and freedoms online, and Partneri Srbija, a civil society organisation devoted to upholding the rule of law.

The draft does not currently specify that a legal basis is required, which BIRN and other organisations calling for the amendment claim creates a risk that authorities or private companies handling personal data may restrict citizens’ rights at their own discretion.

The proposed amendment refers to Article 40 of the bill, which the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection has also been vocal in the need for it to be changed.

He told N1 television network on October 23 that it was “without any sense and reasonable explanation” that the article did not contain a stipulation that citizens’ rights can only be limited by law.

The organisations that signed the call expect that an amended and final text of the law will restore the provision that citizens’ rights can be restricted only by law and that they will be given the highest level of protection of the right to privacy and personal data protection.

More details are available on the SHARE Foundation’s website (in Serbian only).

BIRN Panelists Discuss Strategies to Rebuild Trust in Media

Some 20 international experts discussed approaches to rebuilding trust in journalism and alternative models of financing media on day two of BIRN’s digital media conference in Macedonia.

On the second day of BIRN’s international digital media conference in Ohrid, Macedonia, more than 20 experts took part in panel discussions and workshops exploring how media outlets can achieve sustainability in today’s digital world, focusing on trust in journalism and on its financing models.

The conference, titled “Digital media: Quest for Sustainability”, was supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with Dutch ambassador to Serbia Henk van den Dool delivering the opening address of the day, stressing that “media literacy is crucial.”

He also highlighted the importance of holding an event to discuss the state of digital media at a time when, for the seventh year in a row, worldwide internet freedom is on the decline.

During the first panel of the day, journalists from around the region discussed the current lack of trust in journalists and the media, and the ways in which publishers are trying to rebuild it.

“Journalists fear editors, editors are afraid of owners, media owners are scared of politicians, that’s the vicious cycle,” said Biljana Sekulovska, editor at Macedonian national broadcaster Nova TV.

Fellow panelist, BIRN Serbia Editor Slobodan Georgiev, claimed that “it looks like it has never been easier to be a journalist and at the same time it has never been harder to be a journalist.”

They were joined by Leila Bicakcic, the director of the Bosnian Center for Investigative Reporting, who also stressed that in terms of rebuilding trust in journalists, much of it comes down to the responsibility of the media itself.

“Lack of professional standards is an individual thing. We [media outlets] have to look at ourselves and how we can do better,” she said.

Separate panels also explored two media success stories; the founder of Serbian news site Juzne Vesti, Vitomir Ognjanovic, credited his outlet’s ability to given regional stories national appeal for their growth.

Meanwhile, Aleksandar Manasiev from Macedonian web portal Vidi vaka said that their focus on choosing underreported stories and combining them with short-form video production had extended their reach among the digital generation.

A special panel dedicated to marketing agencies was also presented, with the discussion focused on their role in working with digital publishers and promoting content online.

“The most important thing for us is to have media that publishes relevant and authentic content. Clicks are not enough,” said Ira Babic from Macedonian marketing agency Brand Union.

Leading a workshop during the event, co-founder of Dutch investigative outlet Follow the Money, Arne van der Wal, shared his belief that at a time when fast journalism is demanded, there remains value in taking time to produce quality content.

“It’s better to do one good story than five bad stories,” he stressed.

The two final panels of the day, wo other panels on how TV magazines can maintain editorial independence and on fact-checking concluded the day.

In the latter, Bardhyl Jashari, the Director of Macedonia’s Metamorphosis Foundation, stressed that the focus of their fact-checking is not on the media, but on the citizens to recognise propaganda.

BIRN’s conference ended on Sunday with a closing ceremony summarising the key points made over the two days prior.

Experts Discuss Balkan Media Sustainability at BIRN Conference

The first day of a BIRN Macedonia conference on media sustainability heard a number of speakers exchanging ideas and best practices.

Digital media in the Balkans can be sustainable, but probably won’t be any time soon, speakers on the first day of BIRN’s conference “Digital Media: Quest for sustainability”, in Ohrid, Macedonia, said.

Ideas, suggestions and ways to improve digital media sustainability in the region were brought up by various speakers.

Local media professionals, meanwhile, said they were not overly optimistic about becoming self-sustainable, but understand the need to achieve this at some point.

The first day of the two-and-a-half-day event, which is supported by Kingdom of the Netherlands, brought together representatives of the media, journalism associations, advertising and social media experts, as well as start-ups.

They exchanged experiences about best practices, developing cooperation and providing insight into a question that has troubled the global media industry for the past decade: how to achieve sustainability.

The opening remarks were made by BIRN Macedonia’s director, Ana Petruseva, and by the Ambassador of The Netherlands to Macedonia, Wouter Plomp.

“Not all the media have to be sustainable, but quality media outlets should be,” said Plomp.

In the first session, “Is there a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge of media sustainability?” views were shared by Goran Mihajlovski, from the web portal sdk.mk, Pavle Zlatic, from Irex, Serbia, Elvira Jukic from the Media Centre, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and by Eraldin Fazliu, from Prishtina Insight, Kosovo, as well as by members of the audience.

Speakers said sustainability for the quality media remains a big challenge in the region, given the small size of markets, low advertising rates, political pressures and other reasons.

However, models that can be adopted, developed and implemented include crowdfunding, connecting with communities and improving the quality of media content.

Ivica Penic, of the Grow up Academy, spoke about using social media to find the best customers.

He broadcasted his presentation live on Facebook. One of his key points was that the time is over when all content could be offered to everybody at the same time.

“The currency is attention. You cannot share all content with everybody. Content is the king, distribution is the queen. Fun, interesting, useful. That’s the content that we’re looking for. Smartphones are no longer devices, but extensions of us,” Penic said.

Spreading “fake” news and propaganda through social media was also one of the topics, addressed by Andrej Petrovski, of the Share Foundation.

He said the ability of agencies to serve people tailor-made content based on their psychological profiles gives them power to control the system.

“The creators of fake news and propaganda know that media-literate people won’t believe them, but they also know that there are others that will,” he added.

Igor Trajkovski, from the first and biggest news aggregator, Time.mk, spoke about how the media can advance their ranking online.

He said there are four basic rules to follow: publish unique content, pay attention to the first paragraph of the story, use proper names, and publish fast and update.

Nina Angelovska and Zarko Dimitroski were speakers on the panel on how young people can create successful business models; both have been recognized by Forbes as young entrepreneurs.

They shared their experience on building their start-up projects “Grouper” and “Eden na eden”, and on how they built well-recognized brands.

Arne van der Wal shared his experience with the brand “Follow the money”, and spoke about how good content can make money.

“Build strong relations with the audience, make them members instead of subscribers, and sell a mission instead of a product,” he said.

Fighting irregular competition remains a challenge, as newsrooms lose audiences and market shares to one-person websites stealing and republishing their content.

“The fake media, the noisemakers, are creating a lot of trouble in the media field and need to be regulated,” said Katerina Sinadinovska, from the Media Ethics Council.

“Small, brave websites depend on taking content from others and are good for distributing the information to larger audiences,” said Srdjan Puhalo, a journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The conference continues with panels, case studies and workshops related to media sustainability.

The speakers and the guests will discuss rebuilding trust in the media, attracting the attention of advertisers and making money from investigating journalism without jeopardizing standards.