BIRN’s Krypometer Receives New Fact-Checking License

The International Fact-Checking Network, IFCN, has granted BIRN’s Krypometer an extended license to operate after a careful assessment of the work of this product.

In a published announcement, it said that following careful evaluation of the specific criteria, the Krypometer, a product of Kallxo.com, is an exclusively fact-checking initiative that operates within a legally registered organisation.

Its quality was based on an assessment of published stories from September, October and November of the previous year.

“The general conclusion is that the reporting seems to be in line with the principles of fairness, political impartiality and factuality,” the IFCN announcement said.

“Public information about the organisation, its employees and financial resources is accessible. The fact-checking methodology is explained, corrections are highlighted where such interventions are made in the text,” the announcement added.

Faik Ispahiu, director of Internews Kosova, called it an “internationally credible assessment of the work and the way of reporting” at Kallxo.com.

“Certification by the IFCN and public confidence makes us proud and strengthens our confidence that Kosovo can be a state of true values and achievements,” he added.

Jeta Xharra, director of BIRN Kosovo, recalled the hard work done to receive this positive assessment from the IFCN.

“IFCN has a system where it is not enough to be good only at the beginning (in 2018, when we were accredited for the first time); in fact, they have assessed our fact-checking methodology in a continuous manner,” Xharra said.

“I and my colleagues need to make sure we reach the proper level each year because we are the subject of a yearly audit from this international mechanism,” she added.

Krypometer’s goal is to reflect on the credibility of public statements from political figures on issues of major importance, be they local, central or international.

Krypometer does not focus only on the political accusations and counter-accusations commonly used during election campaigns.

It aims also to explain more complex matters, provide the context or history of statements and present a data analysis, as well as an explanation of how politicians, diplomats and others phrase and formulate their opinions, so as to distort or shadow the truth.

Kallxo.com and the TV show Jeta ne Kosove  are part of the IFCN of the US-based Poynter Institute, which is a media organisation that is dedicated to promoting excellence in fact-checking.

Tools to impartially and transparently verify facts are seen as powerful for accountable journalism. BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova are signatories to this code of principles, which was announced on September 15, 2016.

BIRN and Internews Kosova Welcome Court Access Regulation

The Kosovo Judicial Council, KJC, has issued a decision regulating access by parties to courts, which prohibits lawyers from approaching judges without prior arrangement and without the other parties being present and has sent a letter demanding equal measures for prosecutors to be implemented as well.

Lawyers have deemed this decision controversial and illegal, however, and have responded by boycotting their work in the courts, which is causing unnecessary and dangerous delays in trials.

On January 10, 2019, BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova, IKS sent a letter of support to the KJC, showing support for the decision and demanding equal treatment of parties in court procedures. BIRN Kosovo and IKS asked the KJC to apply the same procedure for prosecutors as well.

The letter reminds the KJC that BIRN and IKS, over 13 years of monitoring the justice system, have repeatedly called for equal treatment of prosecutors and lawyers so that the courts enjoy more credibility among citizens.

They deplore the practice of prosecutors meeting individually with judges just before hearings start, having coffee together before trials, or entering the court hearing together, as a bad practice that is likely to undermine the faith of both the parties and the public.

BIRN and IKS also urged the KJC not to allow this decision to be used by individuals against court monitors and the media in a way that would endanger the transparency of court procedures, and question the objectivity and impartiality of the court.

BIRN and IKS also requested the KJC to continue with the swift implementation of the decision, and ensure the proper and normal functioning of the courts.

BIRN Publishes Transitional Justice Report

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network published the report “After the ICTY: Accountability, Truth and Justice in the Former Yugoslavia” which aims to map current challenges in regional cooperation over war crimes prosecutions and missing persons, victims’ participation, and the role of archives, art, media and museums in dealing with the past.

Twenty years after the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and a year after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia closed down, accountability, truth and justice still seem more like ideals than reality.

During 2018, under the umbrella of BIRN’s Transitional Justice Initiative, a series of events was organised to discuss regional cooperation over war crimes prosecutions and missing persons, victims’ participation, and the role of archives, art, media and museums in dealing with the past.

Participants from civil society, the expert community, institutions, academia and the media tried to answer the overarching questions – how far we are from reconciliation, and what more can we do to combat impunity and increase intercultural dialogue?

Although several protocols regulating cooperation in the area of war crimes prosecution are in place, the offices of the national prosecutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia still haven’t engaged in meaningful cooperation to address the legacies of the grave violations that took place during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Regional cooperation is at its lowest level in years, there is a stagnation in the number of new cases launched – and in some countries a significant fall in new cases – while only a few middle- and high-ranking officers have been indicted. National prosecutions are often subjected to political pressure, and lack resources and other institutional support.

Another main challenge in addressing the legacies of the 1990s wars is victims’ participation and reparations. Most victims who participated in trial proceedings as witnesses got limited support through victims’ and witnesses’ units. But overall, victims’ participation was piecemeal, and war survivors were just passive observers, with limited space to make compensation claims. Victims are often not adequately informed about reparation schemes, while reparation processes – if they exist – are lengthy and burdened with bureaucracy and legal challenges. There is a general perception that the justice systems in former Yugoslav countries have betrayed victims.

Survivors of crimes and families of killed and missing persons also say that the right to truth has not been fulfilled. While almost all missing persons are listed as such, name-by-name lists of all the people killed during the conflicts are lacking. Politicians and state institutions in the region have often showed a lack of coordination and cooperation on issues dating from the conflicts, while their approach to the issue of missing persons has been from a strictly national and ethnocentric perspective.

Although significant documentation about human rights violations during the conflicts has been amassed by the ICTY and domestic courts, few members of the general public are aware of its existence. Another problem is the lack of openness of the archives of institutions in former Yugoslav states. Where archives are open, institutions struggle with limited resources.

Regardless of the documentation and resources that are available, there is still no sign of fact-based narratives on war legacies being created in countries in the region, mainly due to the persistent predominance of nationalistic discourse. Official representatives of all countries in the region continue to use ‘us and them’ rhetoric with regards to wartime crimes, while political elites and state institutions have repeatedly supported and even promoted convicted war criminals. Meanwhile human rights activists who challenge the official narratives are attacked and sometimes even prosecuted.

Nationalistic discourse also spills over into memorialisation and education. Memorialisation processes in post-Yugoslav countries are ethnically-based, with state commemorations only organised for victims of the dominant ethnicity. In schools, history textbooks lack impartiality when it comes to the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

The report concludes with recommendations for governments and judicial institutions in the former Yugoslav countries to take meaningful steps in the process of dealing with the past, and to the European Union to include transitional justice policies as EU benchmarks throughout these countries’ integration process, as well as ensuring that transitional justice forms part of its other policy interventions in the region.

To read the full report, click here.

BIRN Staff Trained in Google Analytics Management

BIRN journalists, web team and project management staff attended a training in the use of Google Analytics on December 26 and 27 in Belgrade.

The training, organised by BIRN and the international non-profit organisation Internews, through their Balkan Media Assistance Programme, covered topics such as content analysis  with quantitative data, review of key metrics for websites, and improvements that can lead to audience expansion and revenue potential.

On the first day, trainer Fedja Kulenovic from Internews gave a presentation on how to create content strategies for a synergy of business and journalism.

Kulenovic showed the trainees basic Google Analytics measurements, including the number of users, new users, bounce rate, sessions, page views, sessions per user, pages per session and session duration.

Participants worked individually to review their websites, review key metrics, compare them to benchmarks, and then discussed the findings.

On the second day of the training, BIRN staff learned about numerous small improvements that can potentially help attract new audiences and generate more revenue.

Participants learned how the market evaluates platforms, and how to build a media kit using Analytics data.

The final presentation focused on creating dashboards and emailed reports, using Google Data Studio and Google Tag Manager.

BIRN Journalists Trained on Advanced Journalistic Techniques and Mobile Journalism

Twenty journalists and editors from BIRN’s regional web portal Balkan Insight and other BIRN organisations attended an advanced training on journalistic techniques and mobile journalism in Montenegro from December 17-20.

Over four days, a group of BIRN journalists and editors were trained on “Writing with Insight” and mobile journalism at the mountain resort of Kolasin in Montenegro, with the aim of developing and honing advanced skills on longer form reporting and mobile journalism.

The editor of BIRN’s Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, Timothy Large, who was formerly a Reuters correspondent and worked as editor-in-chief of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, led the course on advanced journalistic writing techniques.

The goal of his sessions was to equip journalists with a ‘survival guide’ for writing with insight, to examine interview techniques and to demystify the art of writing features and news analysis.

Lamija Aleckovic, media expert and a former journalist and editor at Croatian public broadcaster HRT and at Al Jazeera Balkans, led the section of the training on mobile journalism.

This included insights into how an integrated newsroom functions and how mobile journalism can best be utilised.

The participants were trained on how to construct a narrative in visual form, which included how to plan shots to suit the story and what interviewees or additional elements may be required. It also covered the basics of camera angles, framing, lighting and sound control, finishing with a hands on task to film and edit a video package using advanced mobile editing apps.

Two members of Balkan Insight’s web team, Ljubisa Banovic and Branko Karapandza, concluded the training with a session that introduced participants to the new content management system for the outlet’s new website, which will be launched soon.

Three BIRN-Backed Stories Receive Prizes for Human Rights Reporting in Kosovo

Three journalistic pieces produced by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, were awarded with prizes in a competition by the NGO Coalition for the Protection of Children, KOMF.

In cooperation with the Forum ZFD and the Center for the Education of Kosovo, through EIDHR projects financed by the EU and managed by the EU Office in Kosovo, KOMF held the annual award ceremony for journalistic reporting on the rights of children in Kosovo.

Donjeta Kelmendi, director of KOMF, said that the media and journalists have always supported her organisation.

“Without support from the media, we would not have had the results we achieved as a coalition so far. This year, there was a lot of competition, like in previous years. We expect that 2019 will have even greater collaborations than previous years,” she said.

Libor Chlad, the Deputy Head of Cooperation at the EU Office in Kosovo, said that it is an honor for him to be present at the prize-giving ceremony.

“The EU has been the main donor in Kosovo to advance some sectors in the past years. We are in favor of improving the quality of life here in the future. We need to support children. We concluded that security is paramount, but also their smiles. It is not easy to include all of these. It is important for journalists to write about the issues that children face,” he said.

KALLXO.com journalist Emirjeta Vllahiu was awarded with a prize for the article titled “The 10 euro bonus does not cover essential expenses for raising children,” on the resolution approved by the Kosovo assembly to give 10 euros monthly for children under 16 years of age.

Another KALLXO.com article awarded in the competition was written by a group of authors – Agnesa Citaku, Ertan Galushi, Mergim Rudari, Fatjona Mani, Valon Fana – titled “Between the desire and inability to get an education,” a project supported by the Office of the EU Special Representative in Kosovo, implemented by BIRN, increasing the cooperation between journalists and all communities in Kosovo. The article is dedicated to the issues that Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children face regarding access to education.

The TV story called “Punishment” by RTK journalist Festim Kabashi was also awarded; it was a project supported by the EU Office in Kosovo and implemented by BIRN. The documentary shows the violence that children face within the families in Kosovo.

Other awarded stories were “Child mother” by RTK journalist Kaltrina Rexhepi, as well as the article titled “The dangerous mountain road towards education” by Koha Ditore journalist Edona Kutleshi.

Call for Resonant Voices Fellowship

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Commission for International Justice and Accountability and the Foundation Propulsion Fund are inviting journalists, researchers and writers from across Europe to apply for the Resonant Voices Fellowship programme.

The rise of far-right movements fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment continues to take hold of Europe. Just outside of the EU, in the Western Balkans, the path to EU membership still carries hope to transform intractable conflicts, but people are growing increasingly sceptical.

What is the future of the European Union and the European identity? What do the proponents of both closed and open societies and borders within the EU want? What role do propaganda and disinformation campaigns play in radicalisation and polarisation of our societies and who is the most susceptible?

What are social factors that might make someone radical and what makes people turn to violence? Is there a standard pattern of the radicalisation process and a model of individual extremist? What are the most common ways in which people become exposed to extremist ideologies? What are the root causes of extremism and terrorism? Are they in the EU or outside of the EU? What is the role of propaganda and disinformation? Is the current model of integration suitable? What challenges are we facing from increased migration?

Fellowships consisting of 3,000-euro bursaries and mentoring are offered to cover topics at the intersection of identity, migration, democracy, human rights, radicalisation and violent extremism. We are welcoming proposals that could explore the following themes:

  • Challenges of integration of the Western Balkans communities within the European Union
  • Far right networks operating in Europe with links to the Western Balkans
  • Religious radicalisation in Europe with links to the Western Balkans and Turkey
  • Radicalising transitional justice narratives among the Western Balkans communities living in the EU
  • Nexus between Balkan linked networks of organised crime and terrorism within EU borders
  • Ghettoization and exclusion of immigrants in Europe
  • Political violence within the EU and its online engine
  • Role of media in countering disinformation and propaganda in connection with migration, integration and multiculturalism.
  • Links between political discourse and disinformation in the context of migration, security and terrorism.

Ten journalists, researchers, and writers will be chosen through open competition to receive funding and professional support to conduct in-depth research and investigation into a topic of EU and regional significance.

The content of the Resonant Voices Fellowship call represents the views of the author only and is the author’s sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

An independent jury committee, consisting of international media professionals, civil society representatives and security experts, will select from the applicants.

Chosen applicants will receive 3,000-euro bursaries and attend three-day workshop this spring. The workshop will gather selected participants with the aim to increase their knowledge by providing training in the areas of disinformation and fact-checking, strategic communication to counter online radicalisation, social media, data journalism and impact measurement.

Successful applicants will be mentored by BIRN editors in order to benefit from their practical experience, as well as through on-the-job learning.

The stories produced will be published on BIRN’s flagship website Balkan Insight, and by prominent European, regional and international media outlets.

The call for the Resonant Voices Fellowship will last until January 17, 2019.

This fellowship programme is part of the EU-funded project titled “Resonant Voices Initiative in the EU”. The Project is implemented by the Stichting Commission for International Justice and Accountability, the Foundation Propulsion Fund and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Regional Network, BIRN Hub.

Fellowship Structure

The Resonant Voices Fellowship includes the following elements:

  • Fellowship bursary of 3,000 euros per selected fellow or team;
  • A three-day workshop in Austria or Germany, with European and regional trainers in March 2019;
  • Ongoing, on-the-job mentoring and support from BIRN’s editor and  visual communications mentor;
  • Publication of in-depth investigation on BIRN’s flagship website Balkan Insight and in other prominent media outlets.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Individuals or teams with residence in the EU, Western Balkans or Turkey.
  • Applicants should be proficient in English (speaking, reading and comprehension).

How to Apply

All further information regarding the application process, as well as application form and application guidelines, can be found on the Resonant Voices Initiative website: http://resonantvoices.info/open-call/.

BIRN Kosovo Co-Hosts Discussion on Tax Administration

Democracy Plus (D+) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo held a round table in Pristina on December 18 entitled ‘Legal challenges on protecting integrity and combating conflict of interest in the Tax Administration of Kosovo (TAK)’.

The aim was to discuss the findings from an analysis of legislation which regulates integrity and conflict of interest at TAK. Present at the round table were representatives of TAK, the government of Kosovo, and civil society.

Isuf Zejna, manager of the rule-of-law programme at D+, and Kreshnik Gashi, editor at BIRN’s Kallxo.com site, presented the findings of the analysis.

Arsim Syla, Office Manager for Professional Standards at TAK, discussed the legislation and the current draft law for public officials with the other panelists, Shqipe Pantina from the Kosovo parliament, and Dr. Bedri Peci, professor of tax and budget rights. Peci said that “legislation should be prepared by people who have experience in legislation, and not by tax officials”.

Following the panel discussion, Shqipe Shoshi Dermaku, Human Resources Manager at TAK, joined an open discussion, pointing out that the internal procedures and status of TAK are crucial to the legislation.

Feedback and suggestions from the discussion will be used to finalise a needs assessment analysis for TAK compiled by Democracy Plus and BIRN Kosovo.

This debate was organised within the framework of the project ‘Support civil society to increase public oversight and accountability of Kosovo public institutions’, funded by the British Embassy in Pristina.

Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence 2018 — Winners Chosen

Romanian freelance journalist Claudia Ciobanu was awarded first prize for the 2018 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme at a closing ceremony in Podgorica on Friday.

Ciobanu won the award of 4,000 euros for her investigation into global ties between ultra-conservative groups waging war on gay marriage and gender rights in the Balkans — and the movement’s corrosive effects on democracy.

Serbian investigative journalists grabbed second and third prizes. Ivana Jeremic won 3,000 euros for her meticulous reporting on hooliganism in Serbia while Andjela Milivojevic got 1,000 euros for her work exploring political violence in lawless northern Kosovo.

Jury members praised Ciobanu for revealing how a growing network of ultra-conservative activists, lawyers and consultants is sharing strategy and resources across borders in a bid to defend what they call the “natural family”.

Her investigation, ‘New World Order’: The ‘Natural Family’ Franchise Goes Global, reveals webs of influence extending as far as US evangelical groups close to the Trump White House and Russian oligarchs with links to the Kremlin. It also highlights how populist leaders are jumping on the “natural family” bandwagon.

“She provides a crucially important insight into attempts to influence popular views on abortion and gay marriage in a more conservative direction throughout Europe,” said Brigitte Alfter, co-founder of the European Investigative Journalism Conference & Dataharvest and author of a handbook on cross-border journalism. “In terms of influencing opinion, this is a crucially important topic to gain a deeper understanding of.”

Jeremic, until recently deputy editor-in-chief of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, won praise for shining a light on Serbia’s hooligan problem.

“Investigative stories are like puzzles, with journalists trying to put together many individual pieces,” said Kristof Bender, deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative. “Often, there are still bits and pieces here and there and it remains unclear how they relate. But Ivana Jeremic has managed to put a lot pieces together so that a whole new picture emerges of hooliganism at the junction of politics, crime and society.”

The jury singled out Milivojevic, also from the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, for her bravery and sensitivity in reporting in turbulent northern Kosovo.

“Her persistence is outstanding,” said Adelheid Wolfl, correspondent for Austrian daily Der Standard. “She sets events in a reasonable political framework and timeframe, so that details merge into a total puzzle. Her capacity for political analysis goes hand in hand with a neutrality towards all those involved, no matter which ethnic groups, an attitude that is rarely found in former Yugoslavia.”

Ten journalists from the Balkan region spent more that six months of 2018 pursuing in-depth stories and investigations linked to this year’s theme: “Truth”. They came from Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Greece.

The jury congratulated all of this year’s fellows on the courageousness of their work, which included stories on corruption, miscarriages of justice, illegal logging, diaspora politics, the subversion of transparency laws and the exploitation of minorities.

A collection of their stories will be published in the new year.

The jury members were Elena Panagiotidis, editor of Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung; Florian Hassel, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for German Süddeutsche Zeitung; Remzi Lani, executive director of the Albanian Media Institute; Kristof Bender, deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative; Milorad Ivanovic, representative of the BFJE alumni network; Adelheid Wolfl, correspondent for Austrian daily Der Standard; and Brigitte Alfter, co-founder of the European Investigative Journalism Conference & Dataharvest.

With the conclusion of this year’s programme, the 10 fellows join the BFJE alumni network, which consists of more than 100 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, allowing 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 2019.

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

BIRN Report Says Media Freedom Declining in Serbia

A new BIRN report on the state of the media in Serbia notes abuses of funding, lack of pluralism in terms of content, an unclear legislative framework and administrative pressure on independent media as some of the most concerning issues.

A BIRN report on the media in Serbia, presented on Wednesday, emphasises a decline in freedom of expression and media pluralism, citing an absence of social, political and economic conditions conducive to the development of a professional and sustainable media sector.

“This report focuses primarily on the allocation of state funds in the media sector, as BIRN’s long-term monitoring indicates that this is one of the key preconditions for the economic sustainability of media outlets, and, as such, a powerful instrument of misuse and corruption,” it reads.

According to the report, independent media and journalistic organizations monitoring the allocation of funds reported abuses in the distribution of some 10 million euros in the media sector.

BIRN has submitted the report to the EU Delegation in Serbia as its contribution to the compilation of Serbia’s next European Commission Country Report.

It was produced in partnership with the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the Slavko Curuvija Foundation, as part of the EU-funded project.

The report says pluralism in terms of media content is largely missing, the media’s legislative framework is not fully implemented and administrative pressure on independent media is increasing.

Significant abuses of funds through project co-financing scheme still persists, and media are often discriminated against because of their editorial policies, it says.

Most of these issues should be deliberated through the Coordination Body, an ad-hoc mechanism established as a dialogue platform between media associations and government.

But the report says the results have been disappointing.

“So far, four monthly meetings were held and the media community submitted 13 requests to governing bodies. The success of this mechanism has yet to be proven, with mild results achieved in the previous period,” it says.

Another issue is the state’s unwillingness to divest itself from ownership in the media sector, the deadline for which expired in October 2015.

Despite this, privatisation process is still not fully finished. The daily newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti still function as partly state owned companies, while the news agency Tanjug exists and operates in a legal void, according to the report.

Originally published on Balkan Insight.