BIRN Albania Trains Reporters on Data in Health Journalism

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a two-day training session in Tirana on March 23rd to 24th, on transparency in health through data journalism.

The course formed part of “Transparency in Health Through Data Journalism,” a project which is supported by the United States Development Agency, USAID.

A group of 20 journalists from national and local outlets received training in the basic techniques of data gathering in health and visualization, the organization of the health service in Albania, open data sources and access to patients’ rights organizations.

The goal of the course was to strengthen the capacities of local journalists to cover more in-depth stories on the health sector in Albania through data and investigative journalism.

The course will be followed by a call for data-driven stories that will be published on BIRN Albania’s award winning website Reporter.al.

BIRN Albania Trains Activists on Multimedia Techniques

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a training session on March 21st in Tirana on the use of multimedia techniques in media advocacy.

Those taking part were young activists from grassroots and civil society organizations, working to promote access to higher education, gender equality, minority rights and environmental conservation.

The training session, which 21 civil society activists attended, was held with the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, BTD.

BIRN Albania photojournalist Ivana Dervishi led the course, focusing on the importance of photography in activism and media engagement.

She shared her experience in photographing difficult and conflict situations such as protests, and in covering human rights issues. She also engaged the activists on the techniques for creating stunning photo-series and how to pitch them to the media.

The participants also discussed ethical questions concerning the line between photography as part of freedom of expression and people’s rights to privacy.

During the training filmmaker Elton Baxhaku shared his experience working on human rights documentaries and on how to film videos that can be used for activism. He also explained how to persuade people to talk in front of the camera and discussed the difficulties in remaining objective while promoting causes as an activist.

The group shared their own stories of activism and the challenges of explaining human rights violations and the abuse of laws by using videos and the editing process.

Media Ownership Monitor – Albania

Audience and market concentration distorts the Albanian media market. The resulting lack of plurality can be detected in television and radio but also with the printed press. This is one of the results of the three-months-long investigative research that the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania (BIRN Albania) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have jointly carried out.

The results of the “Media Ownership Monitor Albania” are presented in Tirana in March 2018. They shed light on the Albanian media market by disclosing who owns and ultimately controls mass media.

The results of the project are accessible in Albanian and English on albania.mom-rsf.org. The site offers comprehensive information about the media landscape in the country, including a database of major media outlets, companies and their owners, as well as their economic and political interests, to the general public.

A Family Affair – The myth of media pluralism in Albania

Media Ownership Monitor presented by RSF and BIRN Albania.

Audience and market concentration distorts the Albanian media market. The resulting lack of plurality can be detected in television and radio but also with the printed press. This is one of the results of the three-months-long investigative research that the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania (BIRN Albania) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have jointly carried out. The results of the “Media Ownership Monitor Albania” are presented in Tirana today. They shed light on the Albanian media market by disclosing who owns and ultimately controls mass media.

The results of the project are accessible in Albanian and English on albania.mom-rsf.org. The site offers comprehensive information about the media landscape in the country, including a database of major media outlets, companies and their owners, as well as their economic and political interests, to the general public.

Kristina Voko, Executive Director of BIRN Albania states that finally “the myth that, despite its shortcomings, the Albanian media represents a plurality of views has been shattered. A handful of families reach more than half of audience share and 90% of the revenues in our media market.”

“After decades of transition and numerous attempts from civil society activists inside Albania, as well as substantial contributions from the international community, the media landscape seems to slide further away from a path towards independence, plurality and sustainability”, added Olaf Steenfadt, RSF’s global Project Director of the Media Ownership Monitor. “We call on political elites here to understand the value of a truly healthy media sector and act accordingly, also with a view on the country’s attempts to access the European Union. Our project could serve as a respective monitoring tool.”

The presentation in Tirana today comes less than a week after the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers had adopted guidelines and recommendations to its 47 Member States, including Albania, on media pluralism and ownership. Urška Umek, Administrator at the Information Society Department of the Council of Europe, quoted the call on national governments to promote transparency of media ownership and added: “We encourage States to develop a regulatory framework where needed.”

HIGH MEDIA AUDIENCE CONCENTRATION

Supported by a vast dataset, the Media Ownership Monitor proves exceptionally high concentration levels of the Albanian media market. For example, the top four owners in the Television segment reach half of the total audience (between 48.93% to 58,60% – based on reports of the two existing media research agencies, whose data conflict). Three families hold the five digital broadcasting licenses, out of which one alone has received three. Thus, the media regulatory authority has practically endorsed a monopoly. In Radio, the audience concentration is even higher, with four owners controlling almost two thirds (63.69%) of the audience. A medium level of concentration can be observed only in printed press, where the top four owners have a combined readership of 43.29%.

MOM also measured ownership across media sectors, TV, print, radio and online which revealed that top eight owners reach an audience of 72,1% to 80.1%.

All-in all, these figures illustrate a worryingly high risk to media pluralism in Albania.

HIGH MARKET CONCENTRATION

The Albanian media market is small and oversaturated, resulting in harsh economic pressure. There is no official list of print media in the country but reports have put the number at more than 200 titles. MOM investigated 12 daily national newspapers and identified a single owner with a market share of 54%. The top four newspaper publishers control 86.5% of the print market combined.

Despite the many outlets, suggesting a quantitative variety of offer, financial records show that the lion share of revenues, defining market share, is concentrated in a handful of powerful family-owned media groups.

Concentration within the commercial free-to-air TV market for the fourth biggest owners stands at 89.6% – where the two biggest alone control more than two thirds of the market (71.7% of the market share) – and jumps to even 94% if the digital network providers and the public broadcaster are included.

MISSING REGULATORY SAFEGUARDS 

Although the audio-visual market is regulated by law, most media experts perceive its regulatory body, the Audio-visual Media Authority, as being under the direct or indirect influence of political and corporate actors.

Some specific regulation exists in the audio-visual media law, that limits the amount of shares and voting rights in any additional TV company, as well as the amount of advertising, but these restrictions seem opaque and no clear definition of media monopolization exists in the law, let alone it being enforced. The MOM research provides a number of cases, where, by means of ownership across families and diverse corporate structures, the original intent of the law is easily circumvented.

One key article of the law, 62/3, which limited the stakes a person or entity could acquire in a national TV station to 40%, was nullified by the Constitutional Court in May 2016.

SELF-CENSORSHIP

According to the MOM’s research methodology, political control over media outlets in Albania was rated as high. The audience reach of the politically affiliated media owners ranges from 65,18% (Abacus data) to 75,86% (Telemetrix data).

Due to the pressure coming from media owners with political and economic interests, many Albanian journalists resort to self-censorship. Apart from the intricate web that is created around media owners affiliated interests, the media climate in Albania is under pressure also from a series of other factors, including the big corporate advertisers and government institutions. However, none of these outside factors play as big an influence on pushing journalists toward self-censorship as the economic and political interests of owners. In a survey, roughly 80% of journalists in Albania considered their job security as negative, clearly linking their working conditions to the wide-spread phenomenon of self-censorship as a means of protection.

MEDIA UNDER FIRE

As the MOM website illustrates in detail, the Albanian media market is controlled by a small number of powerful owners with strong political ties. At the same time, the few independent outlets and journalists often face intimidation and verbal abuse from politicians. During an impromptu press conference in October 2017, when faced with questions over the alleged ties of his Minister of Interior to a drug trafficking gang, Prime Minister Edi Rama lashed out at journalists, calling them “ignorant”, “poison”, “garbage bin”, “scandalmongers”, “charlatans”, and “public enemies”. Rama’s rhetoric often features the denigration of the media. Over the last few years, he has increasingly preferred communication through social media to avoid scrutiny from journalists. Some commentators have opined that a ‘strategy of abuse’ stands behind the colorful language used by Albanian politicians against the media, aiming to derail public attention from scandals by providing a readymade TV spectacle. Others see it as an attempt to delegitimize the ever shrinking pool of independent and critical journalists and outlets, not being controlled by oligarchs, politicians and their cronies. 

MEDIA OWNERSHIP MONITOR: A GLOBAL RESEARCH PROJECT 

Initiated by the German section of the international human rights NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Media Ownership Monitor project is a global research and advocacy effort to promote transparency and media pluralism at an international level. In Albania, it was conducted together with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania (BIRN Albania) from December2017 to March 2018. The sample of media investigated included 44 national outlets: 11 television channels, 10 radio stations, 12 print titles and 11 online sites. 

RSF’s partner BIRN, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania, is a member of a network of local non-governmental organisations promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values. Through high quality reporting and creating a pool of skilled journalists BIRN examines and scrutinises key processes, steers debates and provides the public with impartial and reliable information. BIRN Network also monitors and advocates for the transparency and accountability of public institutions and enables CSOs and citizens to influence decision-makers. 

The project is financed by the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Country studies were so far published in Colombia, Cambodia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Peru, the Philippines and Mongolia, Ghana, Serbia, Brazil and Morocco. In addition to Albania, this year, MOM will investigate media markets in Mexico, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Lebanon, Tanzania and Egypt. For more information visit the MOM website: http://www.mom-rsf.org

BIRN Albania Holds Training on Media Advocacy

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a training session on March 10 in Tirana about media advocacy with young activists from grassroots and civil society organisations working to promote issues concerning minority rights, criminal justice reform and equal access to higher education.

The training session, which was attended by 17 civil society activists, was held with the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, BTD.

The training was led by BIRN Albania editor Gjergj Erebara and centred on the the diversity of interests that draw the media’s attention to various issues, how different types of media function and techniques through which successful public mass communication campaigns can be built.

The participants were informed about the ethical dilemmas that stories written by journalists and information distributed by press offices might present.

The same dilemmas are central also to activism campaigns and a focus was added on how to avoid propaganda techniques.

BIRN photojournalist Ivana Dervishi shared photographic techniques with the activists and NGO representatives, speaking about how to photograph in difficult situations and explaining photojournalists’ rights.

During this session, the group also learned how to give exposure to social issues using photography and how to pitch such photo stories to media outlets in the country.

BIRN Albania Opens Call for Data Driven Investigations

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania is opening a call for hard-hitting, data-driven investigative stories.

The call is part of the project called “Exposing Corruption in Albania”, which is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while doing investigations and writing stories, which draw on analysis of data sets to expose corruption, abuse of power and other forms of abuse.

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 data-gathering, data analysis and writing to BIRN’s standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on March 11, 2018.

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

Click here (in Albanian) to download application.

Marija Ristic Appointed as New BIRN Network Director

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Regional Network (BIRN Hub) has appointed Marija Ristic to the positon of Regional Network Director, to replace the current director, Gordana Igric.

Marija Ristic has been appointed as BIRN’s Regional Network Director, effective from May 1 this year.

She will lead the BIRN Hub, which coordinates the BIRN network, dealing with editorial, training, operations and development, as well as developing, fundraising for and coordinating core regional projects.

Since its inception, BIRN has attracted exceptional professionals to its team who have helped the organisation over the years to flourish and become a trusted source of information, and Ristic is one of the foremost examples, said Gordana Igric, the current BIRN Regional Network Director.

“I feel confident that she will bring fresh ideas and new energy to the Network, as well as passionately guard the quality of programmes within the Hub,” Igric said.

Ristic started working for BIRN in 2011 as a journalist, contributing to the regional Balkan Transitional Justice programme. Topics related to facing the past, reconciliation and transitional justice have been at the core of her professional development.

In 2015, Ristic produced the award-winning documentary ‘The Unidentified’, which was screened across the Europe and the United States.

She also made BIRN one of the first media organisations in the Western Balkans to initiate regular reporting about violent extremism, populism and propaganda under the regional Resonant Voices Initiative, which also involved training journalists to cover these topics.

“It is a privilege and an honour to lead such an exceptional team of professionals who have been at the forefront of defending media freedoms, human rights and setting the highest journalistic standards across the Western Balkans region,” Ristic said.

Ristic has significant expertise and knowledge related to media, transitional justice, human rights, democratic processes and EU integration.

She has also been actively involved in organisational development, fundraising and expanding the organisation’s influence regionally and abroad over the past several years.

Ristic is a graduate of the Geneva Academy for International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. She has received numerous awards and scholarships from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the OSCE, Zoran Djindjic Foundation and the Research Council of Norway. She is currently a fellow at the Free University in Berlin, Germany enrolled in the European Journalism Fellowship programme, researching universal jurisdiction.

Gordana Igric, the outgoing Regional Network Director, set up BIRN in 2004, and over the past 14 years has overseen its growth from a handful of employees to around 150, with six offices in the Western Balkans, journalistic coverage from 13 countries, and 16 websites in English and local languages.

Eleven Awards Won by BIRN Journalists in 2017

BIRN Network members took home 11 awards in 2017 for reporting within their respective countries as well as for their regional and international investigations.

A multi-country series of investigations about weapons exports into the Middle East, carried by BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo won three awards in 2017.

Judges awarding the prestigious Global Shining Light Award honoured the investigation in November with citations of excellence.

“Making a Killing” received special recognition at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 in Johannesburg with a certificate of excellence. The report was jointly produced with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The story deals with the Pentagon’s $2.2 billion weapons pipeline of Soviet-made arms flooding into Syria.

The report is part of a wider research project by BIRN and the OCCRP on the illegal international arms trade. It was shortlisted in July 2017 for the Global Shining Light Award sponsored by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, an association of 155 non-profit organisations in 68 countries.

“Making a Killing” also won an award for online media in an investigative journalism competition organised by the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia and was also selected in October by voters in an online poll recognising exemplary reporting.

Three Kosovo stories given awards

BIRN Kosovo journalist Doruntia Baliu was awarded the “Best Story on Education” prize in November by the Kosovo Journalist Association and German Corporation for International Cooperation. The award was given to the journalist for her investigation into a grade falsification scandal in the municipality of Drenas.

Pristina-based journalist Serbeze Haxhiaj was honoured in October for her story ‘The Enduring Agony of Wartime Rape in Kosovo’, published on BIRN’s flagship website Balkan Insight. The story explores how women who have been raped and tortured during the Kosovo War are not applying for reparation schemes due to the stigma of rape that is still prevalent in Kosovar society nearly 20 years after the war ended.

BIRN Kosovo’s television programme “Jeta ne Kosove” (Life in Kosovo) and the anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com were given the second prize for investigative journalism by the European Union Office in Kosovo in May.

The investigation that caught the five-member jury’s eys was “Organized Tax Fraud,” which revealed that over 300 Kosovo businesses were involved in a tax evasion scheme through the use of shell companies.

Macedonia took home two awards

Aleksandar Dimitrievski, author of a BIRN’s story about a database for agricultural subsidies, was awarded first prize for investigative journalism for 2016, at a ceremony in Skopje, Macedonia in May 2017. Dimitrievski’s story documents the amount of agricultural subsidies granted to individuals and companies over four years, from 2010-2014, worth about 450 million euros.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia gave its annual investigative reporting award for 2016 to BIRN journalist Vlado Apostolov in February for his series of articles on properties connected to a Macedonian official, Vladimir Zdravev.

Apostolov received the “Yasar Erebara” award for three investigative articles on properties linked to the former chairman of the Council in the Skopje Municipality, published on BIRN Macedonia’s website Prizma.

Journalists in Serbia won two awards

Dragan Gmizic’s “Flatland Without Birds?”, a documentary about illegal bird hunting in Serbia, won the second prize in the EU Investigative Journalism Awards for 2016.

The film, co-produced by BIRN Serbia and Greenfield Productions, examines how the hunting of rare turtle doves and quail in Serbia is organised and asks whether it can be controlled. The documentary was aired on TV N1, TV CG, and Al Jazeera Balkans.

First prize went to Maja Zivanovic for her series of stories for VOICE, the Investigative and Analytic Centre of Vojvodina. Maja is currently working for BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight.

BIRN Serbia journalist Jelena Veljkovic’s story “The Secret of Vucic’s Tavern” won an award in the print media category at the annual competition for investigative journalism, organised by the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia. Her story looked into claim by Serbia’s Property Directorate that it was unaware an exclusive restaurant had opened in a part of the Belgrade Cooperative building, which the directorate had leased to the “Belgrade Waterfront” company. The directorate refused to answer whether it believed the use of public property by a private company was in accordance with the law.

Albania

Elvis Nabolli, a 2016 fellow in the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, in June 2017 won the award for best article by a young investigative journalist, as part of the part of the EU Investigative Awards in Albania. Nabolli won for his article, “An Albanian War on Drugs”, which was produced as part of a fellowship and published by Balkan Insight.

BIRN’s Transitional Justice Programme Enters New Phase

Over the next three years, BIRN’s transitional justice initiative, which is supported by the EU, will focus on building the capacities of local media and civil society in order to promote reconciliation and intercultural dialogue.

From 2018 to the end of 2020, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network’s Balkan Transitional Justice Initiative will work to promote and strengthen transitional justice mechanisms and processes through regular, in-depth, high-quality reporting from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Supported by the European Union, BIRN has partnered with the Netherlands-based organisation Impunity Watch in order to increase and strengthen the capacities of local journalists, civil society activists and victims’ groups to monitor, effectively engage and shape ongoing transitional justice processes, including the implementation of the EU policy framework on transitional justice.

In the upcoming months, besides daily reporting on transitional justice issues, BIRN’s team will produce investigations across the region, televised debates in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and create a focus page about the newly-established Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

It will also continue to work on data journalism, update BIRN’s war crimes verdict map and develop a new database of wartime mass graves.

BIRN will also support local journalists through training sessions, study tours, small grants and mentoring to report on transitional justice.

Impunity Watch will hold workshops and produce policy papers about victims’ participation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

BIRN’s Transitional Justice Initiative has been run since 2011 and besides the EU, it has been supported by the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

BIRN Albania Holds Workshop on Judges’ Asset Declarations

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a workshop in Tirana, presenting its database on the asset declarations of first-instance court judges.

The BIRN Albania database, presented on January 30, contains data from the asset declaration disclosures of 268 first-instance court judges from 2003 until 2016, and was introduced as a resource for journalists looking into stories on the hidden assets of justice officials.

About 20 mid-career journalists from local and national media participated in the workshop, which provided a guide to the data collected in the database, as well as the methods and techniques of investigative journalism used by BIRN Albania to investigate the hidden assets of Albania’s justice officials.

During the workshop, BIRN Albania also presented the findings from its report on the asset declarations of first-instance court judges, which analyses the asset declaration data and highlights suspicious transactions based on internationally-recognised red flags.

The workshop was aimed at strengthening the skills of journalists to look closely at systemic issues of illicit wealth, with a special focus on the red flags raised by the analysis of asset disclosures by first-instance court judges conducted by BIRN Albania.