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 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.

Report on the asset declaration of prosecutors in Albania

Analysis on the System of Assets Declarations of Prosecutors in Albania, a study published by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania, evaluates that structure of the wealth of the members of the prosecutor’s office in Albania as well as the integrity of the asset declaration system.

This latest report comes on the heels of four studies published by BIRN Albania on the integrity of the assets declarations of judges from first-instance courts, appeals courts, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

The study sheds light not only on how prosecutors in Albania have accumulated wealth but also on key practices, recognised as “red flags”, which obscure the origin of this wealth, such as gifts or loans from relatives, inherited assets, large bank loans, real estate transactions and cash kept outside the banking system.

This report aims to analyse the structure and source of assets, expenditures, liabilities and income declared by all prosecutors, as well as provide detailed information on changes to the overall wealth of these officials. The authors of this report hope these data will help journalists, experts and civil society actors to independently monitor the performance of the vetting institutions that are expected now to sift through the judicial cohort and investigative cases of illegal assets of judges and prosecutors.

To download a copy of the report in English, click here.

To download a copy of the report in Albanian, click here.

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 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

BIRN Albania Holds Workshop On Health

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania on Thursday May 3rd held a workshop on corruption, mismanagement and abuse of office in the health sector in Albania.

About 25 journalists, civil society activists, representatives of the office of the Ombudsman and the High State Auditing Office in Albania attended.

The workshop was part of “Transparency on Healthcare through data and investigative journalism”, a project supported by the United States Development Agency, USAID.

The goal of the workshop aimed to identify topics for the upcoming call of BIRN Albania for investigative grants in the health sector, but also sought to build bridges of cooperation between civil society organizations, journalists and independent institutions.

During the course of the workshop, representatives of the High State Auditing Office and the Ombudsman presented the methodologies they use to monitor public institutions and together with civil society representatives discussed ways in which the media can cooperate in fighting corruption in the health sector.

The workshop will be followed by a call for investigative stories that will be published on BIRN Albania’s award winning website, Reporter.al.

BIRN Albania Publishes Media Advocacy Manuals

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania has published two new manuals, which aim to give civil society and activists the necessary knowledge to advocate their causes in the media.

The first guide focuses on advocacy through the traditional and social media, while the second guide deals specifically with the various uses of photography as a medium for advocacy.

The drafting and publication of the two manuals was supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy, BTD and the Swedish International Development Agency, SIDA.

Both manuals are part of BIRN Albania’s efforts to bridge the gap between civil society and the media in order to strengthen the fight against corruption and impunity, reinforce the rule of law and promote the respect of human rights and minorities.

They come on the heels of dozens of workshop between journalists and civil society organized over the last four years by BIRN Albania, which have guided the focus themes for investigative stories in its award winning publication Reporter.al.

The manuals cover an array of topics crucial to media advocacy, which range from making the difference from advocacy to propaganda, to tips and tools to produce a viral photo and how to distribute it.

These publications not only aim to strengthen the presence of civil society in media but also enrich the diversity of voices and opinions that comment on issues important to society in local media outlets.

To download a copy of the manual on “Advocacy through traditional and social media: A guideline for CSOs and activists” in Albanian, click here.

To download a copy of the manual on “Photography and Advocacy: A practical guideline” in Albanian, click here.

Between Pressures and Praises – BIRN Network Annual Report 2017

In 2017, BIRN Network operated in an environment of declining media freedoms and unregulated media markets, where authorities and pro-governmental media outlets pressured members of the Network and its journalists; nevertheless, BIRN received national and international prizes as well as different kinds of informal praise.

An unfavourable media situation and the lack of proper cooperation with institutions—sometimes even hostile attitude towards BIRN—occasionally hinders the work of the organisation. However, through this report, we also underscore the best results of BIRN’s work, including the praise it has received.

The report shows what the organisation did to offer high quality journalistic work and to provide citizens with reliable, timely and in-depth reporting as well as BIRN’s contribution to improving media freedom and openness of public institutions. It also highlights the instances in which BIRN’s work had a strong political and social impact, showing that—despite difficulties—professional journalistic reporting can conclude in tangible results.

The whole report is available here [link].

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.