Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey

BIRN Hub

The overall objective of the project is to provide structural support to media freedom and media integrity in the Western Balkans and Turkey.

Summary

The goal of the three-year project 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.


Donor

European Commision – Directorate-General Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations.


Main Objective

The overall objective of the project is to provide structural support to media freedom and media integrity in the Western Balkans and Turkey. The overall objective is relevant to the global objective of the Call for Proposals which aims to contribute to the promotion of free and professional media in the Western Balkans and Turkey.

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; limited training capacity at a high proficiency level for mid-career journalists; lack of financial resources in most of the media sector, especially for investigations; and limited penetration of the investigative stories that are published.


Specific Objectives

The specific objective of the action is to enhance media trust among citizens and create a safe environment for journalists to produce independent news content through trainings, mentoring, technical and financial support, publishing and recognising best examples of quality journalism.


Main Activities

National Trainings are set to enhance the skills of journalists both basic and advance, as well as to boost partnerships between trained journalists and stakeholders, providers of professional trainings for journalists, organisations supporting media, CSOs, etc.

During the course of 36 months, the 12 national trainings will be organised (2 trainings per country) in collaboration with local partners.

Regional training on investigative journalism for local journalists aim is to enhance efficiency and skills of journalists, as well as to develop a scalable course curriculum for advanced journalism.

Digital Security Lab is planned to be a resource platform for investigative journalists, aiming to provide them with the tools and services that will help journalists breach the technological gap between their skills and an investigative story.

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.

Production and publishing of quality news and investigative stories in mainstream media and Public Service Media has a strong focus on involving these segments of the media into quality news production and investigative reporting.

Production of cross-border investigations is set to boost cooperation between journalists in the Western Balkans region, and increase their knowledge and skills through joint cooperation on cross-border investigative stories.

Training and curriculum development for investigative journalism in academia will include developing a curriculum on investigative journalism both for journalism students, and for students interested either in investigative journalism, or in the methodology of investigative journalism.

Training of Trainers aims to help providers of professional training for journalists improve their own training capacities, and improve their editorial standards in quality news and investigative journalism.

EU Award Scheme 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.


Main Implementer

BIRN Hub


Partners

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.

Aida Hanjalic

Based in in Sarajevo, Aida is responsible for managing all daily entries into the financial database, preparing annual tax reports, maintaining inventory and mail ledgers.

Before BIRN, she worked for more than two years in non-governmental organisations (SEE Change Net Foundation and Regional Environmental Centre for Bosnia-Herzegovina) and for six years in administrative positions in the business sector.

Aida holds a Master degree in Tourism and Environmental Protection at the University of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in Sarajevo from the Department of Geography.

She speaks Bosnian and English.

BIRN Urges Russian Leader To Release Journalists

As Vladimir Putin visits Belgrade, BIRN journalists have used the occasion to call on the Kremlin leader to release imprisoned journalists in Russia and respect human rights.

BIRN journalists in Serbia on Thursday held up banners asking Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had arrived in Belgrade, to release imprisoned journalists in Russia and to respect human rights.

“Free journalists,” said a banner in Serbian, Russian and English held from the windows of the BIRN office, close to where supporters of Putin in Serbia were gathering for a rally.

The BIRN office also displayed an LGBT flag, calling on Putin to respect human and LGBT rights in his country.

Pro-Russian NGOs with the support of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party on Thursday organized a mass gathering in support of the Russian President who was meeting Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in the city.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. The Committee also said it knew of four journalists imprisoned in Russia at this moment.

Rights groups also criticize Russia over its treatment of LGBT people, who face routine pressure, intimidation and violence.

In its latest report, the rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, HRW, noted that a law against so-called gay propaganda was having a negative impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and on the young also.

“The 2013 law exacerbated the hostility LGBT people in Russia have long suffered, and also stifled access to LGBT-inclusive education and support services, with harmful consequences for children,” HRW said in December.

The Russian President is meeting his Serbian counterpart to sign a series of agreements and memorandums, highlighting the warmth between the two Slavic countries.

Serbia and Russia are close diplomatic allies. Russia has strongly supported Belgrade in rejecting Kosovo’s independence, while Belgrade has refused to criticise or sanction Russia for its actions in Ukraine and the unilateral annexation of Crimea.

Originally published on Balkan Insight.

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 Publishes Transitional Justice Report

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network published the report “After the ICTY: Accountability, Truth and Justice in former Yugoslavia” which aims to map current challenges in regional cooperation over war crimes prosecutions and missing persons, victims’ participation, and the role of archives, art, media and museums in dealing with the past.

Twenty years after the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and a year after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia closed down, accountability, truth and justice still seem more like ideals than reality.

During 2018, under the umbrella of BIRN’s Transitional Justice Initiative, a series of events was organised to discuss regional cooperation over war crimes prosecutions and missing persons, victims’ participation, and the role of archives, art, media and museums in dealing with the past.

Participants from civil society, the expert community, institutions, academia and the media tried to answer the overarching questions – how far we are from reconciliation, and what more can we do to combat impunity and increase intercultural dialogue?

Although several protocols regulating cooperation in the area of war crimes prosecution are in place, the offices of the national prosecutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia still haven’t engaged in meaningful cooperation to address the legacies of the grave violations that took place during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Regional cooperation is at its lowest level in years, there is a stagnation in the number of new cases launched – and in some countries a significant fall in new cases – while only a few middle- and high-ranking officers have been indicted. National prosecutions are often subjected to political pressure, and lack resources and other institutional support.

Another main challenge in addressing the legacies of the 1990s wars is victims’ participation and reparations. Most victims who participated in trial proceedings as witnesses got limited support through victims’ and witnesses’ units. But overall, victims’ participation was piecemeal, and war survivors were just passive observers, with limited space to make compensation claims. Victims are often not adequately informed about reparation schemes, while reparation processes – if they exist – are lengthy and burdened with bureaucracy and legal challenges. There is a general perception that the justice systems in former Yugoslav countries have betrayed victims.

Survivors of crimes and families of killed and missing persons also say that the right to truth has not been fulfilled. While almost all missing persons are listed as such, name-by-name lists of all the people killed during the conflicts are lacking. Politicians and state institutions in the region have often showed a lack of coordination and cooperation on issues dating from the conflicts, while their approach to the issue of missing persons has been from a strictly national and ethnocentric perspective.

Although significant documentation about human rights violations during the conflicts has been amassed by the ICTY and domestic courts, few members of the general public are aware of its existence. Another problem is the lack of openness of the archives of institutions in former Yugoslav states. Where archives are open, institutions struggle with limited resources.

Regardless of the documentation and resources that are available, there is still no sign of fact-based narratives on war legacies being created in countries in the region, mainly due to the persistent predominance of nationalistic discourse. Official representatives of all countries in the region continue to use ‘us and them’ rhetoric with regards to wartime crimes, while political elites and state institutions have repeatedly supported and even promoted convicted war criminals. Meanwhile human rights activists who challenge the official narratives are attacked and sometimes even prosecuted.

Nationalistic discourse also spills over into memorialisation and education. Memorialisation processes in post-Yugoslav countries are ethnically-based, with state commemorations only organised for victims of the dominant ethnicity. In schools, history textbooks lack impartiality when it comes to the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

The report concludes with recommendations for governments and judicial institutions in the former Yugoslav countries to take meaningful steps in the process of dealing with the past, and to the European Union to include transitional justice policies as EU benchmarks throughout these countries’ integration process, as well as ensuring that transitional justice forms part of its other policy interventions in the region.

To read the full report, click here.

BIRN Staff Trained in Google Analytics Management

BIRN journalists, web team and project management staff attended a training in the use of Google Analytics on December 26 and 27 in Belgrade.

The training, organised by BIRN and the international non-profit organisation Internews, through their Balkan Media Assistance Programme, covered topics such as content analysis  with quantitative data, review of key metrics for websites, and improvements that can lead to audience expansion and revenue potential.

On the first day, trainer Fedja Kulenovic from Internews gave a presentation on how to create content strategies for a synergy of business and journalism.

Kulenovic showed the trainees basic Google Analytics measurements, including the number of users, new users, bounce rate, sessions, page views, sessions per user, pages per session and session duration.

Participants worked individually to review their websites, review key metrics, compare them to benchmarks, and then discussed the findings.

On the second day of the training, BIRN staff learned about numerous small improvements that can potentially help attract new audiences and generate more revenue.

Participants learned how the market evaluates platforms, and how to build a media kit using Analytics data.

The final presentation focused on creating dashboards and emailed reports, using Google Data Studio and Google Tag Manager.

BIRN Journalists Trained on Advanced Journalistic Techniques and Mobile Journalism

Twenty journalists and editors from BIRN’s regional web portal Balkan Insight and other BIRN organisations attended an advanced training on journalistic techniques and mobile journalism in Montenegro from December 17-20.

Over four days, a group of BIRN journalists and editors were trained on “Writing with Insight” and mobile journalism at the mountain resort of Kolasin in Montenegro, with the aim of developing and honing advanced skills on longer form reporting and mobile journalism.

The editor of BIRN’s Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, Timothy Large, who was formerly a Reuters correspondent and worked as editor-in-chief of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, led the course on advanced journalistic writing techniques.

The goal of his sessions was to equip journalists with a ‘survival guide’ for writing with insight, to examine interview techniques and to demystify the art of writing features and news analysis.

Lamija Aleckovic, media expert and a former journalist and editor at Croatian public broadcaster HRT and at Al Jazeera Balkans, led the section of the training on mobile journalism.

This included insights into how an integrated newsroom functions and how mobile journalism can best be utilised.

The participants were trained on how to construct a narrative in visual form, which included how to plan shots to suit the story and what interviewees or additional elements may be required. It also covered the basics of camera angles, framing, lighting and sound control, finishing with a hands on task to film and edit a video package using advanced mobile editing apps.

Two members of Balkan Insight’s web team, Ljubisa Banovic and Branko Karapandza, concluded the training with a session that introduced participants to the new content management system for the outlet’s new website, which will be launched soon.

Call for Resonant Voices Fellowship

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Commission for International Justice and Accountability and the Foundation Propulsion Fund are inviting journalists, researchers and writers from across Europe to apply for the Resonant Voices Fellowship programme.

The rise of far-right movements fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment continues to take hold of Europe. Just outside of the EU, in the Western Balkans, the path to EU membership still carries hope to transform intractable conflicts, but people are growing increasingly sceptical.

What is the future of the European Union and the European identity? What do the proponents of both closed and open societies and borders within the EU want? What role do propaganda and disinformation campaigns play in radicalisation and polarisation of our societies and who is the most susceptible?

What are social factors that might make someone radical and what makes people turn to violence? Is there a standard pattern of the radicalisation process and a model of individual extremist? What are the most common ways in which people become exposed to extremist ideologies? What are the root causes of extremism and terrorism? Are they in the EU or outside of the EU? What is the role of propaganda and disinformation? Is the current model of integration suitable? What challenges are we facing from increased migration?

Fellowships consisting of 3,000-euro bursaries and mentoring are offered to cover topics at the intersection of identity, migration, democracy, human rights, radicalisation and violent extremism. We are welcoming proposals that could explore the following themes:

  • Challenges of integration of the Western Balkans communities within the European Union
  • Far right networks operating in Europe with links to the Western Balkans
  • Religious radicalisation in Europe with links to the Western Balkans and Turkey
  • Radicalising transitional justice narratives among the Western Balkans communities living in the EU
  • Nexus between Balkan linked networks of organised crime and terrorism within EU borders
  • Ghettoization and exclusion of immigrants in Europe
  • Political violence within the EU and its online engine
  • Role of media in countering disinformation and propaganda in connection with migration, integration and multiculturalism.
  • Links between political discourse and disinformation in the context of migration, security and terrorism.

Ten journalists, researchers, and writers will be chosen through open competition to receive funding and professional support to conduct in-depth research and investigation into a topic of EU and regional significance.

The content of the Resonant Voices Fellowship call represents the views of the author only and is the author’s sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

An independent jury committee, consisting of international media professionals, civil society representatives and security experts, will select from the applicants.

Chosen applicants will receive 3,000-euro bursaries and attend three-day workshop this spring. The workshop will gather selected participants with the aim to increase their knowledge by providing training in the areas of disinformation and fact-checking, strategic communication to counter online radicalisation, social media, data journalism and impact measurement.

Successful applicants will be mentored by BIRN editors in order to benefit from their practical experience, as well as through on-the-job learning.

The stories produced will be published on BIRN’s flagship website Balkan Insight, and by prominent European, regional and international media outlets.

The call for the Resonant Voices Fellowship will last until January 17, 2019.

This fellowship programme is part of the EU-funded project titled “Resonant Voices Initiative in the EU”. The Project is implemented by the Stichting Commission for International Justice and Accountability, the Foundation Propulsion Fund and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Regional Network, BIRN Hub.

Fellowship Structure

The Resonant Voices Fellowship includes the following elements:

  • Fellowship bursary of 3,000 euros per selected fellow or team;
  • A three-day workshop in Austria or Germany, with European and regional trainers in March 2019;
  • Ongoing, on-the-job mentoring and support from BIRN’s editor and  visual communications mentor;
  • Publication of in-depth investigation on BIRN’s flagship website Balkan Insight and in other prominent media outlets.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Individuals or teams with residence in the EU, Western Balkans or Turkey.
  • Applicants should be proficient in English (speaking, reading and comprehension).

How to Apply

All further information regarding the application process, as well as application form and application guidelines, can be found on the Resonant Voices Initiative website: http://resonantvoices.info/open-call/.

The Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA)

PARTNER
The Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to conducting criminal investigations during armed conflict and analysing evidence of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Commission is apolitical and carries out its investigative activities independently from any government.  Through its work CIJA provides support for local capacity building, war crimes and counterterrorism investigations, and countering violent extremism (CVE) programmes.

Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence 2018 — Winners Chosen

Romanian freelance journalist Claudia Ciobanu was awarded first prize for the 2018 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme at a closing ceremony in Podgorica on Friday.

Ciobanu won the award of 4,000 euros for her investigation into global ties between ultra-conservative groups waging war on gay marriage and gender rights in the Balkans — and the movement’s corrosive effects on democracy.

Serbian investigative journalists grabbed second and third prizes. Ivana Jeremic won 3,000 euros for her meticulous reporting on hooliganism in Serbia while Andjela Milivojevic got 1,000 euros for her work exploring political violence in lawless northern Kosovo.

Jury members praised Ciobanu for revealing how a growing network of ultra-conservative activists, lawyers and consultants is sharing strategy and resources across borders in a bid to defend what they call the “natural family”.

Her investigation, ‘New World Order’: The ‘Natural Family’ Franchise Goes Global, reveals webs of influence extending as far as US evangelical groups close to the Trump White House and Russian oligarchs with links to the Kremlin. It also highlights how populist leaders are jumping on the “natural family” bandwagon.

“She provides a crucially important insight into attempts to influence popular views on abortion and gay marriage in a more conservative direction throughout Europe,” said Brigitte Alfter, co-founder of the European Investigative Journalism Conference & Dataharvest and author of a handbook on cross-border journalism. “In terms of influencing opinion, this is a crucially important topic to gain a deeper understanding of.”

Jeremic, until recently deputy editor-in-chief of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, won praise for shining a light on Serbia’s hooligan problem.

“Investigative stories are like puzzles, with journalists trying to put together many individual pieces,” said Kristof Bender, deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative. “Often, there are still bits and pieces here and there and it remains unclear how they relate. But Ivana Jeremic has managed to put a lot pieces together so that a whole new picture emerges of hooliganism at the junction of politics, crime and society.”

The jury singled out Milivojevic, also from the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, for her bravery and sensitivity in reporting in turbulent northern Kosovo.

“Her persistence is outstanding,” said Adelheid Wolfl, correspondent for Austrian daily Der Standard. “She sets events in a reasonable political framework and timeframe, so that details merge into a total puzzle. Her capacity for political analysis goes hand in hand with a neutrality towards all those involved, no matter which ethnic groups, an attitude that is rarely found in former Yugoslavia.”

Ten journalists from the Balkan region spent more that six months of 2018 pursuing in-depth stories and investigations linked to this year’s theme: “Truth”. They came from Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Greece.

The jury congratulated all of this year’s fellows on the courageousness of their work, which included stories on corruption, miscarriages of justice, illegal logging, diaspora politics, the subversion of transparency laws and the exploitation of minorities.

A collection of their stories will be published in the new year.

The jury members were Elena Panagiotidis, editor of Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung; Florian Hassel, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for German Süddeutsche Zeitung; Remzi Lani, executive director of the Albanian Media Institute; Kristof Bender, deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative; Milorad Ivanovic, representative of the BFJE alumni network; Adelheid Wolfl, correspondent for Austrian daily Der Standard; and Brigitte Alfter, co-founder of the European Investigative Journalism Conference & Dataharvest.

With the conclusion of this year’s programme, the 10 fellows join the BFJE alumni network, which consists of more than 100 journalists from 10 Balkan countries who collaborate on stories and promote the highest professional standards.

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence was launched in 2007 to promote high-quality, cross-border reporting. The programme provides fellows with financial and editorial support, allowing them to travel, report and write their stories and develop their journalistic skills.

A project that promotes the development of robust and responsible press, the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence has evolved into a decade-long platform that has helped shaping journalism standards in the Balkans and the very careers of participating reporters.

The fellowship will issue a call for applications for next year’s programme in January 2019.

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence is implemented by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, supported by ERSTE Foundation and Open Society Foundations