Marko Selaković, the spokesman for the United Regions of Serbia party, has criticized BIRN’s research into the operations of his former business.
Since June this year the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network has been investigating the spending of Belgrade public companies and the city administration on marketing and other services provided by PR agencies. BIRN journalists have obtained some 300 business contracts over the course of the research and conducted dozens of interviews with representatives of the public administration and private companies, while two articles have been published.
When BIRN began its research into the work of the Stratkom PR Agency, which does business with several public companies and state institutions in Serbia, Selaković expressed his discontent on Facebook and Twitter. Selaković is the former director of the company, and was recently appointed spokesman of the United Regions of Serbia party. Writing on the social network websites, Selaković said he was unhappy that journalists were showing interest in Stratkom’s business operations.
“Over the past few days the so-called investigative journalists swooped down on the StratCom agency, where I worked until December 10. They called practically all StratCom clients (they didn’t meet with StratCom) and insisted on answers to all kinds of questions. They got the answers but refused to see the contracts. Also, they are not interested in other agencies but focus solely on StratCom. The digging up and checking of clients goes all the way to the level of the Rača municipality. They are calling clients’ managers, municipal heads, directors...The interviews are very unpleasant and conducted in a bitter tone of voice. Practically everyone’s been on StratCom’s back over the past few months – from the Tax Administration on-site inspection to tax police officers, etc, etc. Now that I am no longer there I feel it is my duty to put a stop to the abuse of people working at the company. As for me, I’m prepared to file a criminal complaint against myself. If it is established that StratCom or I personally did anything illegal, I am prepared to bear all the consequences. I’m just asking for the selective persecution and pursuit of people who are doing their jobs to stop once and for all. In whose interest is it for a healthy agency to be eliminated from the market?...
… Let’s get one thing straight here: I have always been and will be in favour of investigative journalism. I have never been and will never be in favour of selective investigative journalism…
… But I really don’t understand where they get the right to repeatedly call, day after day, EACH and EVERY StratCom client and over and over again ask absurd questions such as: "Did Selaković abuse his position as URS spokesman so StratCom would work with you?"; "Do you know how much money you are paying them?"; "Do the people know that you are giving them money?"; "What is it that they do for you for that kind of money?" and similar questions. In this process, the “investigative journalists” don’t want to talk to the people in charge of implementing the agreements but only with the management. And they call them over and over again, day after day. This creates tension in the agency’s relations with clients because the clients feel very uncomfortable. My question is: how can I abuse a position that I have held for 15 days (and I ended my employment the minute I took on this political position) and StratCom has been around for years? But no, this question isn’t heard."
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Journalists received bespoke investigative training as they prepared major cross-border stories into crime and corruption in the Balkans.
BIRN’s “Life in Kosovo” has been recognized for reporting on women in a TV programme.
Bardh Shkreli, a journalist for BIRN Kosovo, has won a third-place award in November from the German Society for International Cooperation, GIZ and the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo for education reporting.
Romania’s national journalistic competition Superscrieri has given awards to Elena Stancu and Vlad Odobescu, both fellows this year of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.
Eight journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIH, Croatia, and Serbia participated in a weeklong study visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in October. The Tribunal's Outreach Programme organised the visit in cooperation with BIRN BiH.
BIRN Macedonia announces a call for journalists for an upcoming training session for investigative journalists.
Participants in this year’s Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence will meet for their final seminar and awards ceremony in Zagreb, Croatia from December 11-14.