BIRN Albania’s Documentary ‘Free Flow’ Premiered

Nearly 100 activists, civil society representatives and film buffs packed the Destil Hostel in Tirana on June 5 for the premiere of the BIRN Albania-produced documentary ‘Free Flow’, which was directed by documentary film-maker Elton Baxhaku.

The premiere was held on World Environmental Day, in an effort to underline the importance of documenting the efforts of local communities to protect the environment and their way of life.

The documentary covers the decade-long grassroots struggle of local communities, activists and civil society organisations against hydropower plant projects that threaten the environment, the water supplies of local communities and their livelihoods that are based on sustainable tourism.

In the past two decades, the Albanian government has approved over 500 hydropower plant projects on its rivers and streams, which environmentalists say threaten some of the last unspoiled river systems in Europe.

The documentary focuses on three areas, the Shebenik Jabllanica National Park, the Vjosa River and the Valbona National Park – following local villagers, community rights activists, scientists and artists as they struggle to voice their concerns over hydro power plant projects, challenge concession contracts in court and protest in the streets to encourage support for their cause.

Elton Baxhaku is an acclaimed Albanian film-maker, best known for his 2014 documentary ‘Skandal’ and the 2016 documentary ‘Selita’, which was co-directed by Eriona Çami.

BIRN Refutes Claims It Ignored US Role in Arms Trade

In response to the report “Loud whistle: Journalism is a powerful weapon and whistleblowers must be protected” – published on the portal pistaljka.rs on June 7, 2018 and republished by other media – Balkan Investigative Reporting Network hereby refutes a number of biased and inaccurate claims concerning a series of investigative reports on the international arms trade published by BIRN this year and last.

According to the article, during a public panel debate entitled “Journalists and the government: Who controls whom?” the editor of the portal pistaljka.rs and president of the Serbian Association of Journalists, Vladimir Radomirovic, said that BIRN had written “about arming terrorists, but did not mention America’s involvement in this”.

One of the panel participants, Bulgarian journalist Diljana Gajtandzijeva, was quoted as saying she believed this was “because BIRN is funded from US funds.”

BIRN would like to point out that, more than once, it has published in-depth investigations into the arms trade involving Saudi Arabia and the United States. No fewer than seven of BIRN’s investigative stories have focused on the role of the US and US institutions in buying and selling arms for Syria.

Based on BIRN’s investigations, prosecutors in Germany have opened an investigation into the role of Germany as an intermediary in such deals.

Recently, Al Jazeera UK, together with BIRN, produced a documentary on the topic which featured, among other interviewees, Diljana Gajtandzijeva.

BIRN’s team of reporters has won a number of regional and international awards for the above-mentioned investigative reports, including the prestigious Global Shining Light Citation of Excellence awarded by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, GIJN, in 2017.

 

BIRN Regional Meeting Held in Bucharest

Directors, board members, partners and donors of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, met in the Romanian capital Bucharest on June 2-3 for the network’s latest regional meeting of its governing bodies.

At the meeting, the BIRN Network’s activities and achievements in 2017-2018 were presented and the plans for the upcoming period discussed.

The annual Steering Committee meeting and Assembly session were held, and regional social media guidelines were adopted at the event.

In recent times, BIRN has operated in an environment marked by illiberal tendencies in the region, media freedom decline in several countries, captured states, and unresolved issues from the past.

Nevertheless, its online publishing, TV and video production reach growing numbers of people; its journalists have won a number of local and international awards, and its reporting has produced tangible social and political changes.

BIRN’s longstanding donors and partners from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and ERSTE foundation attended the meeting.

Tirana Court Dismisses Judge’s Defamation Claim Against BIRN

An Albanian court dismissed a claim of “moral anguish” brought by a judge and his wife against BIRN Albania.

Following repeated delays, a court in Tirana on Thursday threw out a defamation case against BIRN Albania, brought by Appeals Court judge Gjin Gjoni and his businesswoman wife over BIRN’s reporting on the judge’s wealth.

The presiding judge, Astrit Faqolli, said the repeated failure of the plaintiffs to show up was making a “mockery of the court” and dismissed the case after almost 12 months and 11 hearings.

Gjoni and his wife, Elona Caushi, were again absent; their lawyer cited sickness and requested another postponement.

The couple had sought a total of 52,000 euros in damages from BIRN Albania as an organisation and from its journalists, Besar Likmeta and Aleksandra Bogdani, over three articles published on Reporter.al, BIRN Albania’s online publication, in 2016 and 2017.

The journalists had reported on the closure and then the reopening of an investigation by the prosecutor’s office and further closure into Gjoni, who had been accused by Albania’s High Inspectorate for Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflicts of Interest, HIDAACI, of concealing wealth, falsifying official documents and money laundering.

HIDAACI is an independent body created in 2003 to tackle public sector corruption.

A third article listed the ten richest judges in the country based on their asset declarations. Gjoni, who is also a member of Albania’s High Council of Justice, came in at No. 1.

BIRN Albania had told the court it stood by its reporting.

“The process was continuously dragged out by the plaintiffs as it became more and more evident that their claims were baseless,” said defence lawyer Dorjan Matlija.

Matlija linked the delays to a vetting process in Albania’s notoriously corrupt judicial system in which judges and prosecutors are expected to explain their wealth, an effort the government hopes will aid its European Union membership bid.

“I believe the plaintiffs did not want an outright loss at a time when the country’s judges are going through the vetting process, so for that reason their strategy was to the drag the case out forever.”

In March, a court threw out a separate lawsuit brought by Gjoni and his wife against the Tirana newspaper Shqiptarja.com and its journalists Elton Qyno and Adriatik Doci, seeking 14,800 euros in damages from the newspaper and 7,400 euros from each of the journalists. The plaintiffs had failed to show up for closing arguments but have appealed the court’s decision.

The court cases had been criticised by Albanian and international journalism bodies as an attempt to intimidate the media.

BIRN Kosovo Held Grant Information Sessions

BIRN Kosovo held two information sessions on May 24 and 25, one in Prishtina and one in North Mitrovica, to provide clarifications and answer questions from prospective applicants to the ‘Support to Civil Society and Media Initiatives’ project funded by European Union in Kosovo.

The sessions focused specifically on “Contributing to the strengthening of independent, investigative and useful journalism for the public and freedom of expression in Kosovo”.

The most significant objectives of the project are strengthening Kosovo’s media sector to fulfill its role in a democratic environment, improving the internal governance of the Press Council of Kosovo and improving the understanding and enforcement of the law on freedom of information, prosecution, copyright and media-related legislation.

BIRN representatives also provided more information about potential applicants’ requirements in terms of the project’s timeline and budget lines, acceptable and unacceptable activities, covered and non-covered expenses within the project, and application procedures.

With the call for applications for the ‘Support to Civil Society and Media Initiatives’ project, BIRN Kosovo will award about 20 sub-grants divided into small grants and medium grants.

Small grants involve amounts from 2,000 to 5,000 euros for a six-month project implementation period, while medium grants involve amounts from 20,000 to 30,000 euros for a 12-month project implementation period.

For further details and information about the project, follow this link: http://birn.eu.com/news-and-events/call-for-proposals-for-the-eu-funded-project/

Ban on BIRN Covering Erdogan Rally Left Unexplained

No explanation has been given why BIRN and other media outlets were denied accreditation to cover the rally held in Sarajevo by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish embassy in Bosnia and the Union of European Turkish Democrats, UETD – which organised the sixth assembly meeting of the UETD in Sarajevo – have yet to explain why BIRN and some other media outlets were denied permission to cover Sunday’s event at which the Turkish President was the star.

BIRN and several other media outlets were not given accreditation to cover the mass rally in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

BIRN first contacted organisers seeking accreditation on May 7, the same day the UETD said that press accreditation would be needed.

After receiving additional information on the documents journalists must submit, BIRN sent accreditation requests using the email address provided by the UETD for three of its journalists on May 8, and an additional request for one more of its reporters six days later.

BIRN delivered the complete documentation for all four journalists to the organisers by May 14.

The UETD confirmed on the same day that it had received all the documentation needed and would inform BIRN about the next steps.

However, no further email with information about where or how to get accreditation was ever received.

Contacted again by BIRN ahead of the rally, Ezgi Aslan, the UETD Secretary General’s Executive Assistant, responded by email on May 19, saying that “there were apparently small communication disruptions. You can now contact the same address again,” adding that “our colleagues will contact you as soon as possible.”

However, Lemija Demirbas, who was in charge of press accreditation, told a BIRN correspondent in Sarajevo on Sunday” “You are not on the list and this list is approved by the government …  and the embassy of Turkey,” leaving him unable to report from the rally.

Michael Colborne, a freelance journalist from Canada, had the same experience and told BIRN that it was never clear who was in charge of accreditations.

Bosnia’s Journalists’ Association has not made any official comment about this situation since, as it explained in a statement to BIRN, Bosnian institutions were not in charge of the event.

Neither the Turkish embassy nor the UETD and UEBD had responded to BIRN’s further inquiries by the time of publication.

The UETD’s headquarters is in Cologne, home to one of the biggest Turkish communities in Germany, and the organisation is close to Erdogan.

It has branches in other European cities with significant Turkish populations, and recently established a sister lobby organisation in Bosnia, the Union of European Balkan Democrats, UEBD.

Zafer Sirakaya, president of the UETD, earlier told BIRN that his organisation was an NGO and has no direct links to Erdogan or his party – but conceded that a bond of love existed between the UETD and the Turkish President.

Read more:

Journalists Barred from Covering Erdogan’s Sarajevo Rally

Call for Proposals Aimed To Strengthen Independent Journalism

Call for Proposals for the EU Funded Project

“Contribute to strengthening independent, investigative and publicly beneficial journalism and freedom of expression in Kosovo”

BIRN and AJK have joined forces in implementing the EU Funded Project “Contribute to strengthening independent, investigative and publicly beneficial journalism and freedom of expression in Kosovo”. This Call for Proposals is one of the project’s components which aims to provide opportunities for local NGOs/CSOs, including journalists, operating and working in Kosovo, to tackle the issues related to media freedoms and freedom of expression in their respective communities. Specifically, the given scheme seeks to develop not only independent, investigative, impartial, unbiased and publicly beneficial journalism in Kosovo, but also equip its beneficiaries with the required skills and resources to move beyond protocol journalism and delve into creative, investigative, legally-sound and publicly beneficial journalism.

This Call for Proposals contains two lots:

LOT I: Supporting document-based reporting on themes related to good governance, education, healthcare, economy and human rights and encourage access to public documents.

LOT IIImproving internal governance of the PCK and/or its members organizations in respecting labor law, respecting copyright and applying best standards of media legislation.

The applications MUST be sent by e-mail to [email protected] by 08.06.2018, at 16:00.


Thirrje për Propozime për Projekt të Financuar nga BE

“Kontribut në forcimin e gazetarisë së pavarur, hulumtuese dhe të dobishme për publikun, si dhe në lirinë e shprehjes në Kosovë”

BIRN dhe AGK kanë bashkuar forcat në zbatimin e projektit të financuar nga BE-ja “Kontribut në forcimin e gazetarisë së pavarur, hulumtuese dhe të dobishme për publikun, si dhe në lirinë e shprehjes në Kosovë”. Kjo Thirrje për Propozime është një nga komponentët e projektit që ka për qëllim të ofrojnë mundësi për OJQ/OSHC-të lokale, përfshirë gazetarët që veprojnë dhe punojnë në Kosovë, për të trajtuar çështjet që kanë të bëjnë me lirinë e medias dhe lirinë e shprehjes në komunitetet e tyre përkatëse. Konkretisht, skema e ofruar mëton të zhvillojë jo vetëm një gazetari të pavarur, hulumtuese, të paanshme, joparagjykuese dhe në të mirë të publikut, por gjithashtu t’i pajisë përfituesit e saj me shkathtësitë dhe resurset e nevojshme për të lëvizur përtej gazetarisë së protokollit dhe për të hyrë në gazetarinë krijuese, hulumtuese dhe në të mirë publike .

Kjo Thirrje për Propozime përmban dy llote:

LLOTI I: Mbështetja e raportimit të bazuar në dokumente mbi temat që kanë të bëjnë me qeverisjen e mirë, arsimin, shëndetësinë, ekonominë dhe të drejtat e njeriut dhe inkurajimi i qasjes në dokumente publike.

LLOTI II: Përmirësimi i qeverisjes së brendshme të KMSHK dhe/ose organizatave anëtarëve të saj në respektimin e ligjit të punës, duke respektuar të drejtën e autorit dhe zbatuar standardet më të mira të legjislacionit të medias.

Aplikacionet DUHET të dërgohen me postë elektronike në adresën eu[email protected] deri më 08.06.2018, ora 16:00.


Poziv za predloge za projekat koji finansira EU

“Doprinos jačanju nezavisnog, istraživačkog i novinarstva od javne koristi i slobode izražavanja na Kosovu”

BIRN i UNK su udružili snage u sprovođenju projekta koji finansira EU “Doprinos jačanju nezavisnog, istraživačkog i novinarstva od javne koristi i slobode izražavanja na Kosovu” Ovaj Poziv za predloge je jedna od komponenti projekta koja ima za cilj pružanje prilika NVO/OCD-ima, uključujući novinare koji deluju i rade na Kosovu u borbi protiv pitanja koja se odnose na slobodu medija i slobodu izražavanja u svojim zajednicama. Posebno, navedena shema pokušava da razvije ne samo nezavisno, istraživačko, objektivno i novinarstvo od javne koristi na Kosovu, nego i korisnicima pruži odgovarajuće veštine i resurse za prevazilaženje protokolskog novinarstva i udube se u kreativno, istraživačko, zakonski opravdano i novinarstvo od javne koristi.

Ovaj Poziv za ponude sadrži dva lota:

LOT I: Podrška izveštavanju zasnovanom na dokumentima o temama koje se odnose na dobro upravljanje, obrazovanje, privredu i ljudska prava i ohrabrivanje uvida u javna dokumenta.

LOT II: Poboljšanje unutrašnjeg upravljanja SŠM i/ili članica organizacija u poštovanju zakona o radu, poštovanju autorskih prava i primeni najboljih standarda u medijskom zakonodavstvu.

Prijave se MORAJU poslati e-mailom na [email protected] do 08.06.2018. u 16.00 


Resonant Voices Initiative Launches Anti-Radicalisation Projects

Ten pilot projects from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia have been launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, all aimed at challenging polarising, inflammatory and radicalising narratives.

Among the ten pilot projects launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, the Provjeri.me team from Sarajevo have used a creative approach to create a ‘fake news’-busting game to combat misinformation and propaganda and to prevent the sharing of potentially dangerous content among young people in the Western Balkans.

“Nobody wants to be lied to and everyone wants to have fun” is the simple premise on which the team behind Provjeri.Me based their prototype.

Their online game ‘Faketective’ is an educational and entertaining tool which will help people to learn how to recognise and verify problematic content online. The player is put in the shoes of a young journalist who has several tasks before she gets a coveted job with a respected new media outlet.

In order to win the Faketective game, players must successfully debunk incidences of ‘fake news’. The project aims to improve the digital media literacy skills of young people in the Western Balkans.

The Ordinary Heroes project, also from Sarajevo, utilises the video content of oral histories of wartime inter-ethnic rescues to create short videos that look at the present day inter-ethnic tensions through the prism of these positive stories from the past, tackling the prevailing divisive narrative based on glorification or vilification of war-time political and military leaders.

The Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC)’s Ordinary Heroes video project changes the focus away from negative stories about wartime political and military leaders, focusing on positive stories of ordinary people who showed bravery.

Its videos target an audience that includes football fans or groups on social networks that have ties to nationalism.

Humans of the Balkans is a crowd-sourced platform for photos and stories of ordinary people from all over the region, to celebrate its diversity, beauty and potential.

The basic idea is very simple: building a common online space for ordinary people and their stories. While focusing on collecting and sharing positive and inspiring life stories, it also encourages contributors to identify problems and issues they see around them and suggest how they can be solved, so that injustices and grievances can be addressed.

Portal Kultura connects young bloggers and theatre enthusiasts who produce culture and arts focused content.

Portal Kultura’s tag line, which translates as “a generational scream against the reality in which we are growing up”, is both the inspiration for the project’s name (KRIK [Scream]) and captures its philosophy and strategy – giving young people a space to express themselves as bloggers, writers, creators and critics, encouraging them to think independently, embrace alternative views and speak out against divisions and hate in their communities.

The portal is run by a group of volunteers from Banja Luka who in the recent months organised workshops in Drvar, Kostajnica, Derventa and Kotor Varos as well as contributed to the organization of Applause Fest, a theatre festival in Banja Luka showcasing performances from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the portal’s own words: “We are bringing you stories from different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. How did our peers overcome hate speech? How have they resolved existing problems? How did they act preventatively in their local communities? You can find out all this by following our portal. We bring you stories that will not leave you indifferent. Stories that will make you think.”

Story2Tell, a project by the Skopje-based NEXUS Civil Concept, uses the power of human stories to shed light on the experience of one man who regrets his journey to Syria to participate in the war, and engages in positive messaging amid the prevalence of vulgar and violent content online in Macedonia. Story2Tell collected information about reactions to its video pilot project and found that the video drew strong emotional responses from viewers.

Pristina-based project Women of Resilience is an initiative determined to tip the balance in the public discourse and policy discussion about foreign fighters, currently dominated by male voices and experiences.

The Institute for Dialogue and Nondiscrimination strategically and sensitively brings women’s stories into the mix, focusing on empowering those left behind and those who followed their husbands to the conflict zone, giving them a platform to share their experiences to prevent future departures and build these women’s resilience to extremist propaganda and recruitment.

The Jasmine project, in collaboration with Gazeta Mendimi and the Women’s Center for Development and Culture Albania from Elbasan, works to train a new generation of journalists in writing about violent extremism to improve both the quantity and the quality of articles written on the subject in the Albanian language.

CVEinfo.AL is another initiative supported by Resonant Voices, which has developed a web portal and a virtual library of existing resources related to the fight against violent extremism in the Albanian language, as well as news, updates and information about ongoing and new initiatives in this field, to support Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism practitioners.

In Macedonia, statements that provoke hate among religious groups and issues between the religious groups themselves have been a longstanding issue. The Partnership for Actions on Cohabitation and Tolerance, or PACT, tackles the use and misuse of religion, religious messages and religious communities head-on by bringing together 20 future leaders from both communities to get to know one another.

No Hate Speech seeks to educate citizens in Presevo about the harmful effects of use of hateful propaganda and to promote the use of respectful and tolerant terms, targeting those who produce and distribute fake news, misinformation, or hate speech on the internet.

Resonant Voices Initiative is a joint programme run by CIJA US, BIRN and the Propulsion Fund to challenge extremist narratives in public discourse throughout the Western Balkans – in particular those disseminated online.

The programme aims 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 empowers 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.

BIRN Albania Opens Call for Investigations on Healthcare

Following a roundtable discussion between civil society organsations and journalists about corruption and transparency in the healthcare sectors, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania (BIRN Albania) is opening a call for investigative stories.

The call is part of the project called ‘Transparency on Healthcare through data and investigative journalism’, a project supported by the United States Development Agency, USAID.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while doing investigations and writing stories on a wide range of healthcare topics which emerged from the roundtable discussion between journalists and civil society on May 3 in Tirana.

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’s standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on June 3, 2018.

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

Click here (in Albanian) to download application.

BIRN Cited in International Reports

Monitoring reports produced by BIRN and articles published in its regional publication Balkan Insight continue to be quoted in international reports about media, human rights and politics in the region.

Freedom House’s annual country reports for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Moldova, published in Nations in Transit 2018 under the title ‘Confronting Illiberalism’ in April this year, quote Balkan Insight articles on transitional justice, inter-ethnic relations, politics, the economy and the situation in the media

The Media Sustainability Index for 2017 published by IREX in May, in its Europe and Eurasia section, mentions BIRN when describing the media situation in the region, specifically media freedom, lawsuits against media organisations and journalists, as well as BIRN’s reporting on corruption and its training programmes.

The US State Department report for 2017 on human rights in Albania, published in April, quotes BIRN Albania’s research about media censorship in the country. The report also mentions that in 2017 a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists from Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors.

In the Media Landscape – Serbia report, published by the European Journalism Centre in May, the results of the Media Ownership Monitor carried out by BIRN and Reporters without Borders Germany, as well as articles related to media published by Balkan Insight, are quoted throughout the.

Read more:

BIRN Articles Quoted in International Reports

BIRN Cited as Source in International Reports