BIRN Publishes Ratko Mladic Trial E-Book

Ahead of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic’s war crimes verdict next week, BIRN has compiled all its reports on the landmark case into a free, downloadable e-book.

BIRN published a new e-book on Tuesday entitled ‘Ratko Mladic: From Battlefield to Courtroom’, ahead of the former Bosnian Serb commander’s trial verdict on November 22.

The e-book, which is downloadable free of charge, contains all BIRN’s reports on the case from the point when Mladic was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague to face trial to his defence’s recent requests to postpone the verdict on grounds of ill-health.

“Our journalists have following every hearing in their landmark trial over the course of the past six years. We also reported regularly on developments outside of the courtroom that are relevant to the case,” said Marija Ristic, director of BIRN’s transitional justice programme.

“Ahead of the next week’s verdict, we believe this could be a valuable resource for anyone interested in getting all the facts from this important process in one place,” she added.

The e-book contains more than 500 articles and runs to more than 600 pages.

It is the second to be published this month, after BIRN also issued an in-depth e-book containing reports and analyses about the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

Mladic’s trial, which began in 2011, lasted for 530 days and heard evidence from 591 witnesses, of whom 377 appeared in court.

Mladic is charged with the genocide of over 7,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica in 1995, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, which allegedly reached the scale of genocide in several other municipalities in 1992, terrorising the population of besieged Sara­jevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

According to the indictment, he used military force to implement a joint criminal enterprise, spearheaded by the Bosnian Serb political leadership and former president Radovan Karadzic, aimed at creating a Serb-domi­nated state.

Mladic, now aged 74, has denied committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

To download the e-book, click here.

BIRN in Consortium to Assist Public Service Media

BIRN is a part of a consortium led by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) that will implement a project entitled ‘Technical Assistance to Public Service Media in the Western Balkans’, supported by EU funding.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Austrian public broadcaster ORF and the Office of the Eurovision News Exchange for South-East Europe (ERNO) are the other members of the consortium.

The project is being implemented because public service media in the Western Balkans are at a crossroads. They urgently need to embrace an audacious reform agenda and adapt to a rapidly changing media environment or they run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

The project aims to revitalise the region’s public broadcasting sector and bring new confidence to the key stakeholders involved.

It is responding to the stark imperative to rebuild public trust in institutions which are still highly vulnerable to political interference and which appear to be increasingly disconnected from their audiences.

The project has three specific objectives; firstly, it aims to reestablish European standards and promote best practice at the six public service media organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, with a particular focus on helping them to achieve financial autonomy from the state and greater accountability to the public.

It will work to seek consensus on the principles and practice for sustainable funding models as well as securing agreement on fair, transparent and accountable procedures for electing the members of governing bodies.

The project will also work to generate synergies between the six broadcasters by initiating a new phase in ongoing reform processes and helping to formulate long-term strategies.

As a part of this, the programme will facilitate the improved implementation of editorial policies and complaints mechanisms, which in some cases exist on paper only.

It will also support efforts to establish integrated newsrooms, to streamline newsgathering and production processes.

A further aspect of the project will is to continue work in the field of management reform, developing long-term strategies and mentoring their roll-out across multiple departments.

This will be complemented by an initiative to equip regulators with the skills to conduct or commission reliable surveys which will give programme-makers a better insight into audience needs.

The third objective of the technical assistance programme is to expand cooperation in programme-making between the six public service media organisations, ensuring that they can pool resources and share audiovisual materials in a more effective way.

This will be achieved by building the capacity necessary to produce in-depth investigative reports as well as high-quality programming for children and young people.

The project will also seek to introduce new interactive formats which optimise the potential for audience engagement.

In addition to this, a regional platform will be created for sharing archive material between the  broadcasters, enriching factual programming and encouraging further collaboration.

The training programme led by BIRN will address some of the shortcomings inherent in mainstream media across the Western Balkans – low levels of professional skills, an absence of continued mid-career training, and indirect or direct outside influence which prevents the broadcasting of stories which conflict with the interests of local power-brokers.

BIRN Publishes 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, 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.

Ahead of the first indictments, BIRN compiled its extensive archive on the subject into a comprehensive guide to how the court will work, what are its main challenges and what the key players have to say about the allegations and the forthcoming prosecutions.

The e-book can be downloaded free of charge in English, Albanian, Serbian and Macedonian.

“The establishment of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers has been marked by controversy – the court is seen as biased in Kosovo because it targets one ethnic group, while in Serbia it has been greeted as the last hope for justice for Kosovo’s Serbs. In this heated environment, we believe that this e-book can be a valuable tool for everyone who has been following this tortuous road towards justice,” said the book’s editor, Marija Ristic, director of BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice programme.

“We also hope that it will contribute a better understanding of the complex issues involved in bringing people to justice for the crimes of the wartime past – one of the core values of BIRN’s work in the area of transitional justice,” she added.

Although based in The Hague, the Specialist Chambers is legally part of Kosovo’s judicial system, but independent from the Kosovo judiciary and staffed by internationals, while all decisions and appointments related to the court will be made by the European Union.

The Specialist Chambers will have jurisdiction over crimes that occurred between January 1, 1998 until December 31, 2000, and that either were committed or commenced in Kosovo, meaning it can also prosecute crimes committed in Albania, as many of the prisoners who were taken away by the Kosovo Liberation Army were detained in camps in northern Albania.

It will hear cases arising from the EU Special Investigative Task Force report which said that unnamed KLA officials would face indictments for a “campaign of persecution” against Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians believed to be collaborators with the Belgrade regime.

The alleged crimes include killings, abductions, illegal detentions and sexual violence

The SITF report was commissioned after the Council of Europe published an inquiry in 2011 which alleged that some senior Kosovo officials, including current President Hashim Thaci, were responsible for various human rights abuses.

Thaci strongly denied the allegations, and since he become president in February this year, he has publicly supported the establishment of the new court.

For the past 17 years since the war ended, the international community has been administrating justice in Kosovo, but its results have been poor – fewer than 20 final verdicts in war crimes cases. Serbia has prosecuted seven cases related to the Kosovo war.

However, it was believed that the Kosovo prosecution couldn’t handle sensitive cases against high officials, which was one of the reasons why the international community decided to establish the new court.

To download the e-book, click here.

To download the pdf versions, click here.

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BIRN’s Weapons Investigation Wins Online Poll

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network’s investigative story The Pentagon’s $2.2 Billion Soviet Arms Pipeline Flooding Syria has been selected as the best article by voters in a Forum on the Arms Trade online poll recognising exemplary reporting in articles published from July 1 to September 30, the organisers announced on Wednesday.

The authors of the investigation are Ivan Angelovski and Lawrence Marzouk, and the story is a part of wider research by BIRN and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP on the arms trade.

“The type of deep dive investigative reporting that Ivan Angelovski and Lawrence Marzouk have done here is difficult and extremely valuable. Drawing attention to how the arms trade is conducted, with specific identification of international actors who often bend if not outright skirt the rules, reminds us that diligence is needed at all levels,” said Jeff Abramson, an arms trade expert and senior fellow at the Arms Control Association.

“As the Trump administration moves forward with new arms sales and security assistance, their findings serve as examples of how to examine whether it proceeds responsibly,” Abramson added.

Eleven articles were nominated by experts chosen by the Forum on the Arms Trade for being examples of exemplary journalism that uncovers new information and/or expertly explains issues related to the arms trade, security assistance and weapons use that were published in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Angelovski and Marzouk’s story traced programmes to arm Syrian rebels, aided by questionable use of end-user certificates and what they called “misleading” legal documents.

They identified the supply of AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, often from the Balkans, eastern Europe and former Soviet Union factories and inventories, as being led by the US military’s Special Operations Command, SOCOM, as well as the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey.

When asked about why they felt it important to report on apparent abuses within the system for conducting arms transfers, Angelovski and Marzouk told the Forum on the Arms Trade: “The rules are supposed to prevent weapons ending up with terrorists, criminals and rogue states. Countries which have signed up to these rules should abide by them. Breaches of these rules presents a real, current risk to the world, but more troubling is the long-term impact if the whole system is undermined.”

“There’s actually a lot of quality reporting on arms trade, security assistance and weapons use. All the articles that were nominated for exemplary reporting, as well as previous winners and nominees, are great examples of quality reporting,” Angelovski and Marzouk added.

“However, there is not enough media awareness of the issue, partly as it requires some specialist knowledge to begin to find interesting stories and understand their importance. Few journalists have this know-how or the time to learn,” they said.

BIRN Hub Explores Media Development Opportunities in Moldova

BIRN Hub representatives discussed media development and capacity development opportunities and partnerships on October 4 and 5 with journalists, media organisations, donors and international organisations in Chisinau, Moldova.

The media organisations included the Centre for Independent Journalism, The Association of Independent Media, the Higher School of Journalism and the Centre for Journalistic Investigations.

“With some of the Balkan countries having been through similar transitions, BIRN Hub believes that Moldova can be seen in this context in cultural terms too, not just in terms of the former Soviet space”, Petar Subotin, BIRN Regional Development Officer explained.

Moldova has been going through important political, geopolitical and social developments over the past decade, which need to be properly understood by an international audience in a regional context.

The country is on a path towards EU accession, but it is also troubled by a frozen conflict with the separatist authorities in Transnistria and faces large-scale youth migration, while media freedom is under increasing threat.

Moldova is under-reported in the international English-language media and BIRN, by partnering with local media organisations and supporting in-depth and investigative reporting, wants to give it more coverage, and to allow international and regional audiences to understand the country’s dynamics.

BIRN’s Work Presented to Students in Washington

BIRN Programme Manager and investigative reporter Jelena Cosic gave a presentation to students at the American University in Washington DC on October 9 about BIRN’s work and achievements.

During her visit to Washington as part of the Digital Communication Network programme, Cosic was invited by renowned investigative reporter Chuck Lewis and the managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop, Lynne Perri, to talk about BIRN’s investigative projects.

Cosic presented investigations from the Making a Killing series, and spoke about the importance of investigative reporting and BIRN’s work in general.

She held two sessions for students from two different classes, the history of investigative reporting led by Perri and international investigative reporting led by Lewis.

The Digital Communication Network exchange programme is sponsored by the US Department of State and coordinated by World Learning. Cosic is the Serbian representative among 16 media professionals from Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Serbian Media Stage Blackout in Defence of Freedom

Around 150 Serbian media outlets and NGOs are temporarily blacking out their websites or going off air on Thursday, in protest against what they see as assaults on the media’s freedom.

About 150 Serbian websites and NGOs have agreed to join a “blackout” campaign on Thursday, called “Stop media darkness”, to protest over what they called the worsening situation of the free media in the country.

“We want to warn the public that freedom of media in our country is running out of breath, and we want to fight together to save it,” a joint press release of the participating organisations – which include BIRN – said.

Media outlets including Balkan Insight as well as NGOs are blacking out their websites for one hour on Thursday while carrying the simple message: “This is how it looks without a free media”. Supporting print media carry a black page.

Just a few major print media outlets joined the campaign, with none of those with state ownership participating.

The dailies Danas and Kurir and the weekly Vreme published messages in support of the campaign on their front pages, while in the daily Blic, owned by Germany’s Ringier Axel Springer, only the independent cartoonist blacked out his cartoon of the day.

Television and radio stations will be air jingles and videos with the campaign message during the day.

The protest follows a recent incident on September 18 when the Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin’s political party called the editor of the Serbia’s Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, KRIK, Stevan Dojcinovic, a “drug addict” – in apparent retaliation for his published investigation into the minister’s real estate puchases.

Soon after, Vukasin Obradovic, the founder of Vranjske novine and former head of the Serbian journalists’ association, went on hunger strike in protest over his title’s closure and what he called the decline in media freedom in the country.

Media and NGOs say the campaign is designed to remind people that some free media still exist in Serbia. “From here we start,” the joint press release adds.

A progress report published by the European Commission in November 2016 noted that Serbia had made no progress, and had only carried out “some level of preparation”, in terms of supporting freedom of expression.

“The overall environment is not conducive to the full exercise of this right [to media freedom],” the report stated, adding that threats, violence and intimidation against journalists were issues of concern.

The watchdog organisation Freedom House in its latest report said that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and media outlets aligned with him had escalated a drive to portray all investigative and critical media organizations as foreign-backed propagandists seeking to damage the government and destabilize the country.

“Self-censorship was a worsening phenomenon that journalists attributed to concerns about both harassment and economic pressure,” the 2015 report, published last year, said.

It said journalists in Serbia continued to face threats and physical attacks. “Some of the most visible pressure on the media came from Prime Minister Vucic and his allies, who continued to verbally harass critical journalists and outlets”, it said.

The UN Human Rights Committee has also expressed concern about Serbian officials publicly vilifying and intimidating media workers and about the prosecution of journalists and civil society actors for expressing their opinions.

The Serbian state should refrain from prosecuting journalists and human rights activists, should take steps to protect media workers from intimidation and sanction the perpetrators of such offences, the report, published in March, said.

BIRN Cited as Source in International Reports

BIRN and its network members’ publications continue to be quoted and referenced in reports by international organisations around the world.

Balkan Insight articles on human rights, politics, social issues and media were referenced in Amnesty International reports Montenegro: Failure to Implement International Law and Serbia: Still Failing To Deliver On Human Rights in August.

In a report in September 2017 entitled ‘Risks Related to Exports of European Arms’ from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung publication ‘The Causes of Migration due to “Made in Europe” Policies’, the results of an investigation carried by BIRN and OCCRP, Making a Killing: The 1.2 Billion Euro Arms Pipeline to Middle East, are cited.

Also in September, the McGill International Review, a student-run scholarly journal and daily online publication based in Montreal, examined the “dismal state” of press freedom in Serbia, mentioning smear attacks on BIRN by Serbian political leader Aleksandar Vucic.

The article also said it was “critical” to support organisations that promote and produce “incisive, investigative reporting like the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia (NUNS) or the BIRN”.

In the Freedom House report ‘Nations in Transit 2017 – Albania’, articles published by Reporter.al, BIRN Albania’s publication, are mentioned extensively in relation to elections, public spending and other political affairs.

Investigate for ME and EU

BIRN Hub

‘Investigate for ME and EU’, a project which is being implemented by the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG) and BIRN, began in February 2017. CIN and BIRN jointly won this grant in the first-ever EC media call to be organised in Montenegro.

Summary

Through its partnership with BIRN, CIN-CG – which was established just three years ago – will strengthen its capacities, both in terms of supporting journalistic investigations and in managing an EU project.

Investigative stories about the process of EU integration are produced by the members of CIN CG team and journalists from other Montenegrin media – those that are chosen in a call for the best investigative proposals, which is already open. They will deal with the biggest challenges in the country’s negotiations with the EU, including corruption, the rule of law, and environmental issues.

Western Balkans Countering Violent Extremism Training Initiative

BIRN Hub

Summary

The overarching objective of this initiative is to contest extremist narratives in the public discourse, in particular those disseminated online, throughout the Western Balkans. The specific objectives of this project are:

–        To equip critical voices with the skills, know-how and resources to challenge extremist narratives.

–        To encourage critical evaluation of extremist messages by the most vulnerable groups and the general public.

–        To improve policies and practices in the region in handling and responding to online extremist content.

The project adopts an iterative approach, involving a wide range of stakeholders in discussing needs, gaps and opportunities to challenge violent extremist narratives online, followed by the development and testing of prototypes of effective digital solutions and tools to enhance counter-messaging content production and distribution and to strengthen resilience against violent extremism.

Actions will be aligned with national Countering Violent Extremism strategies, with partnerships formed with mainstream media, public institutions, technology companies, and private investors, with the aim of influencing policies and practices in contesting extremist narratives online.