Documentary ‘Free Flow’

Documentary, which was directed by film-maker Elton Baxhaku and premiered in 2018, covers the decade-long grassroots struggle by 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 hydropower plant projects, challenge concession contracts in court and protest in the streets to encourage support for their cause.

BIRN Albania Documentary to be Screened at European Parliament

BIRN Albania’s documentary ‘Free Flow’, about resistance to hydropower plant developers, will be screened on March 7 at the European Parliament in Brussels during a conference entitled ‘Save the Balkan Rivers: Resisting Hydroelectric Power Plants (HPPs) in the Balkans and Albania’.

The conference is being organised by the parliamentary group European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) to highlight the threat posed to biodiversity in the Balkans by thousands of planned hydropower plant projects.

“Many of them are located in protected and environmentally sensitive areas and national parks,” said the GUE/NGL parliamentary group in a statement.

“For more than a decade citizens, activists and civil society from the Balkans have waged a struggle against HPPs, which pose a threat to the environment, sustainable development and ultimately to their way of life,” it added.

Directed by film-maker Elton Baxhaku, the documentary ‘Free Flow’ follows Albania villagers, activists, scientists and artists as they try to draw attention – in court and on the streets – to the threat posed to the environment and the local ecotourism industry by power plant projects.

Baxhaku and BIRN Albania editor Besar Likmeta will be speakers at the conference, which will feature remarks from MEPs and civil society activists from across the region and beyond, including representatives of Civil Rights Defenders, Bankwatch, Riverwatch, WWF Adria, Euronatur, Mileukontakt and others.

Among the members of the parliament at the conference will be Stelios Kouloglou, GUE/NGL, a member of the EU-Albania SA Parliamentary Committee and Ivan Jakovcic, ALDE, the vice-chair of the EU-Albania SA Parliamentary Committee.

Albania Rights Groups Condemn ‘Undemocratic’ Media Bills

Edi Rama is being urged to withdraw two media bills that rights groups say pose a serious threat to freedom of the media and democracy in the country.

A number of organizations in Albania dedicated to the protection of human rights, media freedom, freedom of information and journalists associations called on Prime Minister Edi Rama on Friday to withdraw two proposed bills that would empower the government to regulate online media outlets, under the threat of penalties and closure.

“We inform the public that the two proposals endanger freedom of expression and could turn Albania in a undemocratic country and at the same time are not helpful in tackling the existing problems of the media, including hate speech, defamation, propaganda or disinformation,” the organizations stated at a press conference.

The two draft laws aim to create a registry of online publications and empower a new “Complaints Council” to sanction online media, based on third-party requests, ordering their closure or blocking access to such media in Albania.

The draft laws provide legal mechanisms for the Audiovisual Media Authority AMA and Tax Authority to fine or even close online media outlets, blogs and other publications on the Internet without clear procedures. Rights groups say this poses a threat to seriously increase the level of censorship and self-censorship already present in Albania’s media.

“If the ruling Socialist parliamentary majority enacts these proposals, our hybrid democracy will inevitably slither toward an authoritarian regime. In democratic countries, the aim of the law is to protect citizens from the government and not to protect government from the citizens,” the organizations noted.

The joint statement was backed by BIRN Albania, the Association of Professional Journalists of Albania, the League of Albanian Journalists, AIS/Open Data Albania, Civil Rights Defenders, the Albania Media Council and the MediaLook Center.

Albania’s media is considered only partly free by Freedom House’s media freedom index. The media climate has also deteriorated over the last decade, experts say.

The television market is concentrated in a few hands and political coverage is largely limited to publishing material pre-packaged by parties’ PR offices that have developed into fully fledged TV studios with their own journalists and camera crews.

BIRN and Partners Start Balkans, Turkey Media Freedom Project

The goal of the three-year project entitled ‘Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey’, led by BIRN Hub and its partners and supported by the European Union, is to enhance media trust among citizens and create a safe environment for journalists to produce independent news content through training, mentoring, technical and financial support, and publishing.

The project will be implemented by BIRN Hub in partnership with Thomson Media gGmbH (TM), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Central European University (CEU CMDS), the Media Association of South-East Europe (MASEE), the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN CG), the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers in Macedonia (SSNM), BIRN Albania and BIRN Serbia.

It is intended to address the main problems and challenges in the Western Balkans identified in the Feasibility Study for the Establishment of a Regional Program in Media and Journalism Training – poor professional skills among journalists; the limited training capacity at a high proficiency level for mid-career journalists; the lack of financial resources in the most of media sector, especially for investigations; and the limited penetration of the investigative stories that are published.

Planned activities include national and regional training for young and mid-career journalists and for reporters from mainstream media and public service broadcasters, while a separate curriculum for investigative journalism in academia will also be created. In addition, training for training providers will be held, setting up long-lasting training mechanisms for domestic journalists in the region.

They will learn about news criteria and the structure of news stories; knowing their target group; basic interview techniques; sources and checking facts; writing for the web; news and social media; mobile journalism; story-telling; ethics, and techniques and methodologies for interaction with audiences.

The funding of cross-border story ideas and a study trip for up to 20 editors to one of the major media outlets in Europe with a highly-developed investigative newsroom is also planned.

Also envisaged is the launch of a resource platform for investigative journalists, aiming to provide them with the tools and services that will help journalists breach the tech gap between their skills and an investigative story.

An important element of this project is the continuation of the ongoing regional EU Investigative Journalism Award in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Through the award scheme, 63 prizes will be awarded over the course of 36 months, three in each project country (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey).

The project is funded by the European Commission through its Regional Training and Support Programme to Improve Quality and Professionalism in Journalism.

BIRN Albania Holds Court and Crime Reporting Training

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a three-day training course in Tirana from November 24-26 for local journalists on court and crime reporting techniques, the transparency of the courts and mobile video reporting.

The training course was made possible with support from the USAID-funded Justice for all Project, which is implemented by the East-West Management Institute with local partners like BIRN Albania. Fifteen journalists representing all the regions of Albania attended the training course, at which advanced court and crime reporting techniques were discussed.

The workshop was greeted by EWMI Media Advisor Elira Canga, who underlined the importance of court reporting to advance Albania’s justice reform.

During the training course, the journalists were presented with the recently-published BIRN Albania report on the transparency of courts in Albania and told about techniques of how to use court websites and databases to identify leads.

The training course aimed to strengthen the skills of mid-career journalists to report from the courts, the prosecutor’s office and other law-enforcement institutions, as well assisting them to better use multimedia tools in their stories.

A special session on mobile video reporting was held during the training session by Ivana Dervishi, BIRN Albania’s multimedia journalist, at which the latest techniques of using cellphones to shoot video were presented.

The journalists who attended the three-day workshop have already been given on-the-job training and mentoring by BIRN Albania as part of the project ‘Enhancing the Transparency of Justice Reform in Albania’.

BIRN Albania’s Monitoring Report on Court Transparency

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania launched its monitoring report on transparency of courts on October 30, 2018.

This monitoring report assesses the transparency of all courts in the country with respect to the information categories that these institutions make public through various means of communication with citizens.

The findings aim to encourage a willingness and readiness among judicial institutions to increase their level of transparency, as well as serve as a base study for further progress assessments.

For this purpose, Albania’s Constitutional Court and 38 courts that are part of the local judicial system were monitored on 36 indicators deriving from the legal framework that is currently in force.

The monitoring was conducted by combining three different methods of data collection: on-site monitoring in each court; online monitoring through court websites; and via requests for information submitted to them.

More information available here.

The whole report is available here.

BIRN Albania Presents Baseline Court Transparency Report

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania launched its monitoring report on transparency of courts in Albania on October 30.

BIRN Albania presented its Monitoring Report on Court Transparency during a roundtable with chief justices from the country’s First Instance and Appeals Courts on October 30.

The event was organised by USAID’s “Justice for All” programme, which has supported the publication of the report.

This monitoring report assesses the transparency of all courts in the country with respect to the information categories that these institutions make public through various means of communication with citizens.

The findings aim to encourage a willingness and readiness among judicial institutions to increase their level of transparency, as well as serve as a base study for further progress assessments.

For this purpose, Albania’s Constitutional Court and 38 courts that are part of the local judicial system were monitored on 36 indicators deriving from the legal framework that is currently in force.

The monitoring was conducted by combining three different methods of data collection: on-site monitoring in each court; online monitoring through court websites; and via requests for information submitted to them.

The chief justices present during the round-table welcomed the report as a tool that will aide their staff to better serve the public and improve its access to justice.

The baseline report will be followed by another report in a year’s time, while BIRN Albania will work with the “Justice for All” programme to train court staff to the requirements of the law on freedom of information and the legal framework on proactive transparency.

Read the report in Albanian.

Read the report in English.

BIRN Albania Opens Call for Organised Crime Investigations

BIRN Albania launched a call for investigative stories on organised crime themes on October 10.

BIRN is offering grants for three journalists to cover organised crime stories, as well as mentoring by experienced editors.

The call is part of the project ‘Strengthening Media’s Role in the Fight Against Corruption’, financed by the Open Society Foundation in Albania.

The project’s aim is to strengthen reporting on corruption in the country through cooperation with civil society, in order to contribute to a more informed citizenry that is engaged in the democratic process.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while conducting investigations and writing their stories on organised crime.

The journalists will have around 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 in accordance with BIRN standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on October 30.

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

Click here  to download the application (in Albanian).

BIRN Albania Holds Workshop on Organised Crime

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, in Albania held a workshop between civil society and journalists on the topic of organised crime on Tuesday.

Around 17 journalists, experts and civil society representatives, from the fields of security and organised crime, gathered in Tirana on October 2 for a workshop organised by BIRN Albania to discuss topics and strategies that investigative reporters can use in order to better report on organised crime and its role in society.

The event was part of a project called ‘Strengthening Media’s Role in the Fight Against Corruption,” financed by the Open Society Foundation in Albania. The project’s aim is to strengthen journalist’s reporting on corruption in the country through cooperation with civil society, in order to contribute to a more informed citizenry that is engaged in the democratic process.

Dalina Jashari from the Institute of Democracy and Mediation facilitated the workshop, in which participants suggested a series of key topics centred on organised crime, including the nexus between it and politics, the poor record of the justice system in enforcing extradition of drug pins wanted in the EU and money laundering, among others.

The goal of the workshop was to inform the upcoming call for investigative reporting grants on the topic of organised crime, which will be launched in the coming week by BIRN Albania. Through the call, three journalists will be selected by an independent jury and will be mentored by BIRN editors for a period of three months to produce hard-hitting investigative reports on the topic of organised crime.

BIRN Journalists Trained in Data-Driven Reporting

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a three-day training course on data-driven journalism for the network’s journalists across the region from September 6-9 in Tirana.

Seventeen reporters and editors from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia participated in the training, led by Lawrence Marzouk and Crina Boros. Marzouk and Boros are authors of the recently-published BIRN Albania guide, ‘Getting Started in Data Journalism’, which aims to introduce journalists to data-driven reporting techniques that are essential fror contemporary investigative journalism.

As an editor for BIRN, Marzouk leads a cross-border team of journalists, sending huge volumes of freedom of information requests, scraping data and using traditional reporting methods to delve into high-level corruption in the Balkans and beyond.

Boros is an intrepid investigative journalist who reports on conflicts of interest, vulnerable groups, problematic policies and the use of public funds.

The three-day training course gave the journalists an intensive introduction to data journalism, which ranged from its definition to the location of credible sources of data, the mining of data, open data, wall gardens and the databases that hold information that is most valuable to investigative reporters.

Boros also held a crash course in Excel sheets and descriptive statistics as a powerful tool for data reporters, with added real-world exercises using trade and airline industry data.

A special session was held by Boros on Pivot Tables and how they can analyse big data sources.