Media reporting on organised crime and corruption in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia

A regional comparison of how media report on cases of organized crime and corruption in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia analysing the main obstacles faced by reporters.

BIRN’s project “Exercising the Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia” supported by the German Federal Foreign Office Stability Pact fund, was a regional, 10-month long project with aim to contribute to professionalizing media reporting on legal proceedings related to organized crime and corruption.

The project also intended to increase public awareness on the issues of access to justice and contribute towards more transparent and more responsive institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

The project resulted with three unique country-based and one cross-regional analysis, the first of its kind offering a regional perspective on this topic.

Aside from the looking at how media report on the topic, the study also sought to unpack why media report on organized crime and corruption in the way they do. Specifically, the study sought to identify the challenges and constraints faced by media organizations across the region when it comes to reporting on organized crime and corruption.


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Ratko Mladic Trial E-Book

E-book entitled ‘Ratko Mladic: From Battlefield to Courtroom’ was published in November 2017, ahead of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic’s war crimes verdict.

The book is downloadable free of charge, contains all BIRN’s reports on the case. The e-book contains more than 500 articles and runs to more than 600 pages. Mladic’s trial, which began in 2011, lasted for 530 days and heard evidence from 591 witnesses, of whom 377 appeared in court.

Kosovo War Crimes Court E-Book

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network has published an e-book about the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, aiming to increase understanding about the newly-established court that will try ex-guerrillas for crimes during and after the war.

BIRN’s e-book, entitled ‘Kosovo Specialist Chambers: From Investigations to Indictments, published on October 31, 2017, includes expert analysis, interviews and archive reports that trace the history of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers from the initial Council of Europe investigation into wartime and post-war crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army fighters to the establishment of the new court to try them in The Hague.

Film ‘Your House was My Home’

Documentary ‘Your House was My Home’, which tells how Serbs and Croats from Kula in Croatia and Hrtkovci in Serbia swapped houses and moved to each other’s villages after the outbreak of war in 1991, had its television premiere on Al Jazeera Balkans in September 2017.

The half-hour documentary follows the stories of two of the villages’ residents – Goran Trlaic, who left Kula for Hrtkovci, and Stjepan Roland, who left Hrtkovci for Kula. Before the 1990s conflict, Kula was predominantly populated by Serbs, while the majority of the people in Hrtkovci in Serbia.

Since the end of World War II, they had lived peacefully together – until the first multi-party elections in 1990, when nationalists came to power and minorities were not welcome in either republic anymore.

A series of threats and violent incidents started a chain reaction as increasing numbers of inhabitants of Kula and Hrtkovci exchanged properties so they could escape to safety.

This was described by officials as ‘humane relocation’, but it was actually a forced population exchange in the midst of a war.

The personal recollections in ‘Your House Was My Home’ show how this forced population exchange had a devastating long-term effect on the lives and relationships of ordinary people from both villages, said Baljak.

See more information about the film here.

BIRN Launches Call for Montenegrin Probes on Environment

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, partnered with the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Montenegro, is launching a call for investigative stories on the environment.

The call for investigatorive stories with an environmental angle was launched on March 16 as part of the project to strengthen investigative reporting in Montenegro, founded by the EU Delegation in Podgorica.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while carrying out investigations and writing stories on the environment and related to Chapter 27, within the accession process of the EU.

The journalists will have nine months to dig deeper and research their ideas, and will also have the opportunity to work with experienced editors as their mentors to guide them through the process of writing to BIRN standards.

The call applies only to journalists from Montenegro. It closes on April 6.

Click for more information about the application procedure, with details in Montenegrin.

BIRN Participates in Media Policy Forum in Moldova

The Media Policy Forum was organised in Chisinau by Freedom House, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and Internews, and co-sponsored by USAID, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and BIRN.

“In the last few years in Moldova, we cannot talk about progress, but more about regression,”  Nadine Gogu, executive director of the Independent Journalism Centre in Chisinau, told the Media Policy Forum in the Moldovan capital on Tuesday.

The biggest problems identified by the speakers at the forum related to the increasing politicisation of the country’s media and the alleged concentration of ownership in the hands of proxies for the ruling party, which was described as a threat to the country’s democracy.

The president of the Moldovan parliament, Andrian Candu, told the forum however that “it is important that the media should be allowed to raise its economic capacity”.

Candu argued that the media should have more access to public information and that the debates at the forum should help politicians to improve mass media legislation in Moldova.

But Moldovan media NGOs complained about the unwillingness of the authorities to offer more rights to journalists.

Freedom House described Moldova as a country with a ‘partly free’ press in its 2017 Freedom of the Press index.

Participants at a panel moderated by Tim Judah, a special correspondent for The Economist, stressed the need to increase the level of media literacy in the country as a tool to combat propaganda and so-called ‘fake news’.

The director of Romanian Centre for Independent Journalism, Ioana Avadanei, described a successful media literacy programme that was implemented in some schools in Romania with young pupils.

“It is not so much fake news that causes trouble, it is disinformation that comes in many shapes and form and it’s not only about banning content from social media, it is about how to educate people today,” Avadanei said.

Credit: Freedom House in Moldova
Photo: Freedom House in Moldova

BIRN’s Macedonia Country director Ana Petruseva noted how investigative journalism had played a very significant role in the fight against the concentration of media power and the disinformation spread by government-controlled media in Macedonia over the past few years.

“We had a situation when on three to four private TV stations, we could see the same exact report… the only different thing was the voiceover,” Petruseva recalled.

The Media Policy Forum was organised in Chisinau by Freedom House, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and Internews, and co-sponsored by USAID, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and BIRN.

BIRN Appoints Correspondent in Mitrovica, Kosovo

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN Hub) has appointed Milan Radonjic as its correspondent in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica to strengthen its reporting from the country.

Radonjic will file reports and features on the situation in northern Kosovo, where political and ethnic tensions have remained high since the war, for BIRN’s flagship English-language website Balkan Insight.

The move is also intended to assist independent media in northern Kosovo, such as the Kossev news website.

Balkan Insight already has a dedicated correspondent in the capital Pristina as well as its editorial collaboration with, BIRN Kosovo’s Albanian-language website.

BIRN Holds Project Management Training in Romania

BIRN Hub, the organisational entity that manages the network’s regional projects and coordinates its work, organized project management training for its members in Bucharest, Romania, on March 2-4.

Project management staff, administrative and financial personnel and some journalists met together to boost their knowledge about project management cycles.

During the training, participants had a chance to improve their knowledge of project management cycles and, through interactive workshops, deepen their knowledge of project management and to learn how to contribute to it.

The training session was also a chance to strengthen relations with BIRN Romania, especially for the newcomers to BIRN.

The training was organized by Dusica Stilic, regional operations manager at BIRN Hub.

Hub Meeting Plots BIRN’s Future in Belgrade

BIRN Hub, the organisational entity that manages the network’s regional projects and coordinates work, met in Belgrade, Serbia, on February 24-25, to discuss achieved results, and plan future activities with its newly appointed Regional Director Marija Ristic.

Editorial, project management, administrative, financial, social media, and IT staff from Croatia, the UK, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia gathered at the event.

Over the course of 12 years, BIRN has expanded its work across the whole region and achieved striking results in terms of both editorial production and training journalists.

Its acclaimed Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence programme has opened a call for the 12th edition. The program has built up a strong alumni network and regional perspective both in the coverage of topics and in the work on selecting journalists.

BIRN’s investigative journalism programmes include the Summer School of Investigative Journalism, which has so far trained 250 journalists and gathered over 50 trainers and panelists, with an award-winning series of investigations, “Paper Trail.”

BIRN’s Transitional Justice programme recently entered a new phase and over the next three years will focus on building the capacities of local media and civil society in order to promote reconciliation and intercultural dialogue. This will be done through regular, in-depth, high-quality reporting from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Projects on strengthening public broadcasters in the region, covering online extremism, and strengthening media capacities in Moldova were also presented, and plans for new topics and in new regions discussed.

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.