BIRN Romania Reporters Share Experiences at Media Festival

BIRN Romania journalists and alumni spoke about international reporting standards and freelancing, drawing on their own experiences of being involved in a number of BIRN regional projects, at Zilele Superscrieri [Superscrieri Days], an event that forms part of Romania’s main media festival.

Ana Maria Luca, BIRN correspondent in Bucharest, shared her thoughts on reporting on a daily basis for Balkan Insight, stressing how tough but rewarding it is for a journalist to follow Western-style reporting standards while facing several challenges at home, such as the long delays and refusals of public institutions to deliver requested information, the reluctance of some analysts and officials to speak with a foreign correspondent, and more.

Lina Vdovii spoke about her investigations into migration and its effect on Romanian families, and into Romanian international adoptees who try to find their biological families via social media. Both reports were published in 2014-2015 as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. Vdovii underlined the importance of having enough time and money to investigate such sensitive topics in depth.

Finally, Matei Barbulescu recalled how attending BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting this year had helped enhance his reporting skills and also increase his network of contacts across the region.

The debate held on 18 November in Bucharest was moderated by BIRN Romania’s executive director, Marian Chiriac.

BIRN Bosnia Probes Weak Points in Country’s Judiciary

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, held a closing press conference for “Rule of Law – disclosed”, a project supported over the past two years by the Netherlands’ MATRA program.

The conference, organized in Sarajevo on November 27, presented analyses of work on the judiciary with a special focus on the processing of organized crime, corruption and terrorism cases over the past year.

BIRN BiH director Mirna Buljugić said the lack of transparency in Bosnia’s judicial institutions, and low level of trust that citizens have in them, are one of the main reasons why BIRN BiH needs to act as a social correctively tool.

Journalist Elameri Skrgic-Mikulic presented analysis on the prosecution of corruption cases before the country’s state-level court, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some of the main problems it detected are the lack of indictments, discrepancy between reported and prosecuted crimes and a shortage of experienced prosecutors.

One of the good practices institutions have started to use, however, is tracking the flow of money, which can present important evidence, and has an important role in preventing new crimes from taking place.

Denis Dzidic, BIRN BiH editor, speaking about cases related to terrorism, noting a trend towards plea agreements resulting in similar penalties.

Dzidic also detected a lack of an effective mechanism of confiscation of illegally acquired property in cases of organized crime.

All analyses are available at following links:

State Judiciary Failing to Seize Illegally-Acquired Assets

Prosecution’s Internal Struggles Undermine Fight Against Corruption

Terrorism Focus Shifts from Trials to Deradicalisation

BIRN Albania Training Enhances Crime Reporting Skills

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a three-day training session on November 17-19 in the port city of Durres, designed to sharpen the skills of local reporters in advanced techniques on court and crime reporting as well the use of multimedia tools.

The training was made possible with support from the USAID funded Justice for all project, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, and the Rockefellers Brothers Fund.

Some 18 journalists from all across Albania participated in the days of training, where BIRN Albania presented its new online manual on court and crime reporting.

This provides an easily understood description of the judicial system, tips sheets on court and crime reporting, as well as advice about protection of sources and whistleblowers.

The training 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 as their use of multimedia tools in their stories.

A special session on video reporting was held during the training session by Michael Alexander, Investigative Media Adviser for the Justice for All project, who shared his experiences of working for the BBC with local reporters.

The three-day workshop strengthened the on-the-job training and mentoring for the journalists already provided by BIRN Albania, which is regularly commissioning and publishing reports about the judiciary as the country gears up to implement a major reform of the justice system.

BIRN BiH Comprehensivlely Covers Ratko Mladic Verdict

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) journalists reported from The Hague, Srebrenica, Prijedor, Banja Luka and Sarajevo on the day of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic’s verdict, delivering exclusive reports and reactions.

BIRN BiH’s executive editor Erna Mackic and journalist Admir Muslimovic followed the sentencing of Ratko Mladic in The Hague. They filed reports from the courtroom, in real time, before and after the judgment, along with reactions from those who were most affected by the trial.

BIRN BiH also had a live blog dedicated to the Ratko Mladic verdict, publishing minute-by-minute reactions and news from The Hague, Srebrenica, Prijedor, Banja Luka and Sarajevo. For ten hours, while the blog was live, it had about 1,200 unique visits.

In the week of the Mladic verdict, over 107,000 people visited the Facebook page of detektor.ba. Its Twitter account had 33,500 impressions and the web site www.detektor.ba had more than 4,700 unique visitors.

In cooperation with Radio Free Europe, a TV debate was produced about the first count of Mladic indictment – genocide in 1992 in six Bosnian municipalities.

Journalists and editors from BIRN BiH, as media experts on the subject of war crimes and war crimes prosecutions, commented on Mladic’s verdict for Unsko-Sanska TV, N1 Bosnia and Herzegovina, BHRT public service, BH Radio 1, Federal radio, Radio BIR Zenica, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera Balkans, Radio Free Europe, RTV Slon, Canton TV Sarajevo, Bihac TV, Hayat, Bljesak  and Kosovo TV Kohavision.

BIRN BiH will this week publish special reports on the Herzeg-Bosnia verdict at the Hague Tribunal.

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.

Global Shining Light Award Judges Honour BIRN

The judges of the prestigious Global Shining Light Award have honoured an investigation by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network with citations of excellence.

BIRN’s investigation “Making a Killing” received special recognition – certificate of excellence – at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Making a Killing”, which was jointly produced with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, uncovered how billions of euros of arms from the Balkans and Eastern Europe are illegally ending up with Syrian rebels, including Islamic State, ISIS.

In July this year, the story was shortlisted for the Global Shining Light Award, an award sponsored by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, GIJN, an association of 155 non-profit organisations in 68 countries.

The story was produced as part of “A Paper Trail to Better Governance” project supported by the Austrian Development Agency to promote rule of law, accountability and transparency in six South-Eastern Europe countries.

Global Shining Light Award Judges Honour BIRN from BIRN on Vimeo.

Lack of transparency and drinking water in Mamusha

What are the duties of the future mayor of Mamusha?

There are three candidates running for Mayor of the Municipality of Mamusha.

Whoever gains the trust of citizens, either on October 22 or four weeks after during the run-offs, will face plenty of obligations.

Mamusha was transformed from a Prizren-area village to its own municipality in 2008, and with 5,507 residents, it is one of the smallest municipalities in Kosovo. The process of becoming a municipality happened during the time of decentralization and it is a municipal unit without any single village.

Mamusha, which is 93.1 per cent Turkish, is the only place in Kosovo that has a Turkish majority. The other minorities are Albanians, with 5.9 per cent, and Roma, Egyptians, and Ashkalis, with a total of .9 per cent.

The economy of this municipality is mainly based in agriculture and by a low scale in an active market. Mamusha is known for cultivating plants, especially tomatoes; the municipality produces 90,000 tons of tomato are produced annually, all within a surface of 23 kilometers.2

The Municipality of Mmausha has had problems with drinkable water ever since its establishment. The residents of this municipality are supplied with water from Prizren and from the surrounding villages. For years, residents of Mamusha have been asking for a watering canal for agricultural lands, while the sewage and waste continue to be poured in the Topllua River, which passes through Mamusha.

Mamusha is a municipality with no parking lots, no public kindergartens, and no sports hall.

One of the weakest aspects of this municipality is the lack of transparency: it does not have an information official or a coordinator for access to public documents. The municipality does not even publish vacancy announcements on its official site.

Above all, Mamusha is a municipality that has no directorate that is run by a woman.

In order to deal with solving all these problems, there are three candidates running for the head of the municipality: Abdylhadi Krasniç from KDTP, Arif Bytyç from KTAP and Riza Kryezi, who is an independent candidate.

The current mayor of Mamusha is Arif Bytyc from KTAP, who declined the invitation to directly confront his opponents in BIRN Kosovo’s mayoral debate series #DebatPernime (#RealDebates). In this unfortunate situation, #DebatPernime conducted separate interviews with each of the mayoral candidates of the municipality, so that it could understand the candidates’ governing program plans for the future four-year mandate.

In order to solve its problems, the municipality of Mamusha has 1.8 million euros per year to be spent on capital investments.

Lack of drinkable water

One of the biggest problems for the citizens of Mamusha is the issue of not having drinkable water and the inability to solve such a problem because the municipality does not manage or engage a municipal company. Both the opposition and the citizens express their dissatisfaction regarding this point.

Mamusha residents are obliged to buy filters for cleaning the water that comes from the wells that they have opened in their yards. Such a filter costs approximately 700 euros per family.

The citizens expect their mayor to solve this issue.

Irrigation for Mamusha

Agriculture is the main source of income for Mamusha. The farmers have continuously received promises that they will be supported by the municipality. They expect that by implementing a project related to an irrigation system for their lands, the municipality can make their work easier and costs lower.

The citizens complain that they spend hundreds of euros per season only on fuel, because they need it to transport water from wells opened in the fields with their cars. They say that would be able to pay up to 150 euros per month if they had a watering canal.

Sewage and waste

There are three illegal waste disposals in Mamusha, which are mainly located in the suburbs of the municipality.

Waste is mainly dumped in the Topllua River, which passes through Mamusha. Sewage continues to be poured into this River, and the citizens that live nearby the river cannot stand its bad odor.

Lack of transparency

One of the points where the municipality of Mamusha stagnates is the lack of transparency. According to the Kosovo Democratic Institute’s (KDI) evaluation of the Municipality of Mamusha, it is the least transparent municipality in the region of municipalities surrounding Prizren, with only 19.8 per cent of the general level based on 44 indicators taken from KDI.

Meeting minutes taken in this municipality are never published; minutes are a key element of transparency in local institutions. It has not been reported in the Assembly twice a year, as foreseen by law. The municipality does not have an information official or a coordinator for access to public documents. They also don’t practice the possibility of receiving weekly visits by citizens.

No vacancy announcements, including criteria for employment, are published on the website.

Health

There is one center for family medicine in the Municipality of Mamusha. However, the citizens often complain that there is oftentimes a lack of basic materials and the third shift does not work.

Citizens of Mamusha expect that their municipality should have a hospital center or at least a clinic to perform surgeries or gynecology check-ups, since they receive such services in Prizren, which comes with a cost and is quite far for Mamusha residents.

Education

The municipality of Mamusha has two schools, one of them is an elementary school and the other one is a high school; both are subjects of resident complaints that there is a politicization of education.

In the entire municipality of Mamusha, there is neither a public nor a private kindergarten.

Culture and sports

The municipality of Mamusha does not have any active sports clubs or a sports hall.

The house of culture in Mamusha remains empty and until now, no steps have been taken to activate it.

Property taxes

The municipality of Mamusha, according to the findings of the audit, did not manage to finish verifying 1/3 of real estate, as required by the Law on Property Taxes on Real Estate and the administrative order in power.

Out of 1,059 properties in total, until now, the municipality has managed to verify only 48. The municipality has not managed to settle the data system, because there was lack of inquiry of officials in the field in order to verify the properties.

The non-verification of 1/3 of properties can result in the lack of full information on real estate, which can influence that the assessed income on property tax can decrease. The non-application of liabilities in accordance with legal requests of property tax increases the danger that the income from this category will be lower.

Gender representation

In the municipality of Mamusha, as of now, no women have been municipal directorates

BIRN Publishes Ratko Mladic Trial E-Book

Ahead of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic’s war crimes verdict next week, BIRN has compiled all its reports on the landmark case into a free, downloadable e-book.

BIRN published a new e-book on Tuesday entitled ‘Ratko Mladic: From Battlefield to Courtroom’, ahead of the former Bosnian Serb commander’s trial verdict on November 22.

The e-book, which is downloadable free of charge, contains all BIRN’s reports on the case from the point when Mladic was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague to face trial to his defence’s recent requests to postpone the verdict on grounds of ill-health.

“Our journalists have following every hearing in their landmark trial over the course of the past six years. We also reported regularly on developments outside of the courtroom that are relevant to the case,” said Marija Ristic, director of BIRN’s transitional justice programme.

“Ahead of the next week’s verdict, we believe this could be a valuable resource for anyone interested in getting all the facts from this important process in one place,” she added.

The e-book contains more than 500 articles and runs to more than 600 pages.

It is the second to be published this month, after BIRN also issued an in-depth e-book containing reports and analyses about the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

Mladic’s trial, which began in 2011, lasted for 530 days and heard evidence from 591 witnesses, of whom 377 appeared in court.

Mladic is charged with the genocide of over 7,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica in 1995, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, which allegedly reached the scale of genocide in several other municipalities in 1992, terrorising the population of besieged Sara­jevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

According to the indictment, he used military force to implement a joint criminal enterprise, spearheaded by the Bosnian Serb political leadership and former president Radovan Karadzic, aimed at creating a Serb-domi­nated state.

Mladic, now aged 74, has denied committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

To download the e-book, click here.

BIRN Kosovo Produces Debates for Kosovo’s Runoff Elections

Today, on November 13, 2017, BIRN Kosovo, in collaboration with Internews Kosova, has started the production of pre-electoral debates for Kosovo’s local run-off elections, to be held on November 19th.

 

The debates, which will be broadcasted live on RTV 21, aim to bring the audience face-to-face with the two runoff mayoral candidates, giving people a chance to hear their political platforms, promises, and how they plan to implement their agendas.

BIRN’s debate model #DebatPernime (#RealDebate) aims to raise citizen awareness about the candidates, and also to serve as a platform for revisiting promises after mayors are elected. BIRN will conduct a mid-mandate fact-check of the assurances made during the debates so that the public can know the extent to which their representatives are keeping their promises.

The run-off debates, which are being filmed at BIRN Kosovo’s premises, will host the two mayoral candidates from all runoff parties within 19 municipalities across Kosovo. Citizens all over Kosovo are also encouraged to submit debate questions and concerns through BIRN’s anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com, and on KALLXO.com’s Facebook channel.

BIRN Kosovo’s local runoff election will be broadcasted from November 13 -17, 2017.