Film about Wives of Syrian Fighters to Screen at DokuFest

The film ‘Voices from Within’, produced under the Resonant Voices granting scheme, which aims to challenge polarising, inflammatory and radicalising narratives in the Balkans, will be screened at the upcoming DokuFest film festival, which is being held from August 3-11 in Prizren, Kosovo.

The short film presents the stories of two Kosovo women whose husbands went to fight in Syria, and who are now the sole providers for their families.

The film-maker is Lum Çitaku, a creative director, editor and producer in Pristina, Kosovo.

Voices from Within’ was made as part of the Pristina-based project Women of Resilience – an initiative aiming to change the balance in public discourse and policy discussions about foreign fighters, which is currently dominated by male voices and experiences.

It will be screened within DokuFest’s ‘Radical Reflections’ strand, which offers a selection of films looking at some of the most pressing issues of today, from the rise of right-wing populism to religious extremism.

Resonant Voices Initiative is a joint programme run by CIJA US, BIRN and the Propulsion Fund to challenge extremist narratives in public discourse throughout the Western Balkans – in particular those disseminated online.

BIRN Coverage of Srebrenica Anniversary Widely Quoted

The coverage of this year’s 23rd anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica by BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina and BIRN’s regional programme Balkan Transitional Justice was widely republished and quoted by other media.

The coverage included text and video stories such as Females Were ‘Youngest and Oldest Victims’ of SrebrenicaSrebrenica: How Bosnians Reported Their Most Traumatic Story, Srebrenica Suspects Find Safe Haven in Serbia and a comment article by Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Why We Must Not Forget Srebrenica.

BIRN’s stories were quoted or republished more than 100 times in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region. Publications from Slovenia, Austria, Romania, Germany, Algeria, Australia, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Italy also quoted Balkan Insight articles on the topic.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina editor Denis Dzidic said that for more than a decade, BIRN Bosnia has been monitoring all the war crime trials in the country, “and as such is recognised by experts, media and the general public as the best source of information regarding genocide and war crimes”.

“Our Srebrenica coverage every year looks to implement several aspects – primarily we educate and remind readers about the various verdicts handed down by international and domestic courts. This is vital, because of the campaign of denial which exists in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region regarding the events in Srebrenica,” Dzidic said.

“Secondly, we look to have personal stories which describe the horrific events of July 1995 and its importance for Bosnian society today, which has still not faced up to the horrific crimes of the early 1990s conflict,” he added.

Balkan Public Service Media Assistance Project Starts

Six national public service broadcasters from the Western Balkans signed a memorandum of understanding in Tirana on June 27, officially marking the start of the project ‘Technical Assistance to Public Service Media in the Western Balkans’, funded by the EU to the sum of 1.5 million euros.

The aim of the project, which will run for the next two years, is to strengthen the independence, accountability and programming output of public service broadcasters RTVSH (Albania), BHRT (Bosnia and Herzegovina), RTK (Kosovo), MKRTV (Macedonia), RTCG (Montenegro) and RTS (Serbia).

The project is a collaboration between the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Austrian public broadcaster (ORF), the Office of the Eurovision News Exchange for South-East Europe (ERNO) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

The project will deal with three core objectives – promoting European standards and best practices across the Western Balkans, generating synergies between public service media and regional exchanges on policies and practices for a new phase in the media reform process, and expanding and supporting cooperation on investigative journalism, youth programs and regional exchange of digitised archive materials.

BIRN will be the lead partner in building the capacities necessary to produce in-depth investigative reports. Making qualitative and trustworthy investigative journalism available to citizens is one of the key objectives of the project. During the project, BIRN will be offering local journalists from public service media the chance to work under the mentorship of world-renowned experts.

Over 60 representatives of public service media, international organisations, politicians and regulators discussed at the meeting in Tirana the best ways to help and support public service media in the Western Balkans. The meeting follows six months of intensive work to outline the scope of the project and the areas for cooperation and focus.

Launching the project, EBU director General Noel Curran said: “It is more important than ever to protect the editorial and institutional independence of public service media. As a community, we can make a positive impact on media and, by association, democracy throughout the Western Balkans.”

Karl Giacinti, programme manager at the European Commission, said that the EU sees reforms in public service broadcasters as an important part of the overall democratisation process toward EU accession and beyond.

“The reforms have been priorities for years and the EC is impatient to see improvements. We want to see reforms moving ahead visibly. For all these reasons, the EC decided to launch this project and will further invest in this sector to support the production of independent qualitative contents. Additional regional funds managed by Brussels and national funds from the EU Delegations will be available for this and similar initiatives,” said Giacinti.

Head of the EU Delegation to Albania, Romana Vlahutin, spoke of the importance of public service broadcasters’ independence.

“The defining feature of public broadcasting is its inclusiveness and independence: it is funded by the public and therefore it should be made for the public, serve the public and be controlled by the public. No other interest but the public interest should be the guiding principle of the work of every public broadcaster,” Vlahutin said.

Besides public service broadcasters as the main beneficiaries, the project will include cooperation with national parliaments, broadcasting regulatory authorities and relevant media NGOs.

BIRN Holds Meetings on Regional War Crimes Prosecution Cooperation

BIRN organised meetings of transitional justice stakeholders in Zagreb and Sarajevo in June to develop recommendations for improving regional cooperation in prosecuting crimes committed during the 1990s wars.

BIRN held meetings in Zagreb and Sarajevo with shareholders at the end of June as part of its Balkan Transitional Justice programme – representatives of victims’ associations and the judiciary, as well as NGO members and humanitarian law experts.

These closed expert meetings discussed the issue of regional cooperation between state authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia on prosecuting crimes from the 1990s wars.

At the meetings, participants raised their concerns about potential problems and offered possible solutions.

This input, along with input from meetings that wil take place in Belgrade and Pristina in early September, will be formulated into recommendations.

After all four meetings with stakeholders, one final conference will be held at the regional level in Sarajevo at the beginning of October.

The recommendations from the stakeholders’ meetings and the conference will be used for creating a policy paper for improving regional cooperation between states in prosecuting war crimes.

BIRN Interview Quoted During Ukrainian President’s Visit

Reporting on the visit by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to Serbia,  Radio Free Europe – Balkan service reported that the tensions between Belgrade and the Ukrainian ambassador in Serbia, which had diplomatic consequences, arose in early November 2017 and that the trigger was ambassador Oleksandr Aleksandrovych’s interview with BIRN.

In the interview, Aleksandrovych said that “Putin does not care about Serbia”, claiming that Russia’s president is only using Serbia as “another instrument to destroy Europe”.

Aleksandrovych also stressed that that Serbia was not doing enough to stop its citizens from travelling to Ukraine to fight for pro-Russian forces in the conflict in the east.

The ambassador said that Russian propaganda and its secret services had played a huge role in attracting Serbian and other foreign mercenaries to Ukraine.

After BIRN interviewed the Ukrainian ambassador, tensions between Kiev and Belgrade rose.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin called on Serbia to respect his country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

After summoning the ambassador to Serbia back to Kiev for consultations on November 3, Ukraine’s government also urged Serbia to show respect for its sovereignty and integrity, and to deal with the issue of Serbs fighting for pro-Russian forces in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine.

BIRN Summer School 2018 in Romania

This year’s BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting will be held from August 19th to 25th in Poiana Brasov, a Romanian resort best known for winter sports but also for hiking and other activities.

This is a great opportunity for all those who wish to improve their investigative skills and learn the latest tricks from media experts.

BIRN will be gathering some of the world’s best-known editors and trainers to teach the course members investigative tips and tricks.

Successful applicants will be provided with excellent possibilities for networking – and the possibility of getting a grant for a story idea.

The lead trainer on the course in Romania is one of the best investigative editors in the US, Reuters’ Blake Morrison, a three-times finalist for the Pulitzer investigative award.

Others include the New York Times senior journalist Christoph Koettl; co-creator of one of the best podcast series in US and winner of an Emmy and three Peabody awards Susanne Reber; Knight International Journalism Award winner and OCCRP editor Miranda Patrucic; European Press Prize winner Bellingcats’ Christiaan Triebert; ICIJ journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia and award winning BIRN’s investigative editor, Lawrence Marzouk.

UK Parliament Opens Inquiry After BIRN Weapons Report

The British parliament’s committee on arms export controls  requested internal correspondence related to the shipment of ammunition from Bosnia to Saudi Arabia, following BIRN’s investigation into the deal.

The committee said it would write a formal letter outlining the information it needs as part of an inquiry into UK arms licences issued in 2016.

On June 6, BIRN revealed that the UK failed to warn Bosnia and Herzegovina of its suspicions about the consignment of bullets officially bound for Saudi Arabia.

This is the latest case of international reactions following BIRN’s Balkan arms trade investigations.

In September 2017, a BIRN investigation had sparked an official probe in Germany into whether the Pentagon broke the law by sending weapons to Syrian rebels through its German airbases. A public prosecutor in the  city of Kaiserslautern carried out a preliminary investigation into the findings of an investigation that BIRN, the OCCRP and Süddeutsche Zeitung published.

BIRN’s weapons investigations in 2016 provoked reactions from heads of states and foreign ministers (in Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro) and from arms companies. The EU’s diplomatic service also said it was looking into the findings of the BIRN and OCCRP investigation into how Central and Eastern Europe weapons are flooding the battlefields of Syria, while the opposition in Germany questioned Berlin’s role in the Middle East arms trade following the reports.

BIRN Refutes Claims It Ignored US Role in Arms Trade

In response to the report “Loud whistle: Journalism is a powerful weapon and whistleblowers must be protected” – published on the portal on June 7, 2018 and republished by other media – Balkan Investigative Reporting Network hereby refutes a number of biased and inaccurate claims concerning a series of investigative reports on the international arms trade published by BIRN this year and last.

According to the article, during a public panel debate entitled “Journalists and the government: Who controls whom?” the editor of the portal and president of the Serbian Association of Journalists, Vladimir Radomirovic, said that BIRN had written “about arming terrorists, but did not mention America’s involvement in this”.

One of the panel participants, Bulgarian journalist Diljana Gajtandzijeva, was quoted as saying she believed this was “because BIRN is funded from US funds.”

BIRN would like to point out that, more than once, it has published in-depth investigations into the arms trade involving Saudi Arabia and the United States. No fewer than seven of BIRN’s investigative stories have focused on the role of the US and US institutions in buying and selling arms for Syria.

Based on BIRN’s investigations, prosecutors in Germany have opened an investigation into the role of Germany as an intermediary in such deals.

Recently, Al Jazeera UK, together with BIRN, produced a documentary on the topic which featured, among other interviewees, Diljana Gajtandzijeva.

BIRN’s team of reporters has won a number of regional and international awards for the above-mentioned investigative reports, including the prestigious Global Shining Light Citation of Excellence awarded by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, GIJN, in 2017.


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.