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.

Innovative Journalism Techniques Training Held in Moldova

A training course entitled ‘Innovative Techniques for Quality Journalism’, organised by BIRN and the Independent Journalism Center in Moldova (IJC), was held on March 16-17 in Chisinau, Moldova.

Fifteen participants representing national and regional media who are interested in launching partnerships at the international level and in publishing their stories in foreign media with the support of BIRN HUB, took part in the training.

The training was conducted by BIRN editors Timothy Large, Marija Ristic and Marian Chiriac, who shared their experience in the field of narrative journalism.

The trainers offered journalists a number of instruments and techniques for enhancing their reporting skills.

The participants had the opportunity to hone their features, news and analysis writing skills and gain insights into online journalism and into the correct ways of reporting on conflict situations.

The participants said they appreciated the training course, giving feedback responses saying that they learned how to write interesting futures, improved their professional skills and `learned new techniques for writing quality articles.

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 Kallxo.com, 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.

Eleven Awards Won by BIRN Journalists in 2017

BIRN Network members took home 11 awards in 2017 for reporting within their respective countries as well as for their regional and international investigations.

A multi-country series of investigations about weapons exports into the Middle East, carried by BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo won three awards in 2017.

Judges awarding the prestigious Global Shining Light Award honoured the investigation in November with citations of excellence.

“Making a Killing” received special recognition at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 in Johannesburg with a certificate of excellence. The report was jointly produced with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The story deals with the Pentagon’s $2.2 billion weapons pipeline of Soviet-made arms flooding into Syria.

The report is part of a wider research project by BIRN and the OCCRP on the illegal international arms trade. It was shortlisted in July 2017 for the Global Shining Light Award sponsored by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, an association of 155 non-profit organisations in 68 countries.

“Making a Killing” also won an award for online media in an investigative journalism competition organised by the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia and was also selected in October by voters in an online poll recognising exemplary reporting.

Three Kosovo stories given awards

BIRN Kosovo journalist Doruntia Baliu was awarded the “Best Story on Education” prize in November by the Kosovo Journalist Association and German Corporation for International Cooperation. The award was given to the journalist for her investigation into a grade falsification scandal in the municipality of Drenas.

Pristina-based journalist Serbeze Haxhiaj was honoured in October for her story ‘The Enduring Agony of Wartime Rape in Kosovo’, published on BIRN’s flagship website Balkan Insight. The story explores how women who have been raped and tortured during the Kosovo War are not applying for reparation schemes due to the stigma of rape that is still prevalent in Kosovar society nearly 20 years after the war ended.

BIRN Kosovo’s television programme “Jeta ne Kosove” (Life in Kosovo) and the anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com were given the second prize for investigative journalism by the European Union Office in Kosovo in May.

The investigation that caught the five-member jury’s eys was “Organized Tax Fraud,” which revealed that over 300 Kosovo businesses were involved in a tax evasion scheme through the use of shell companies.

Macedonia took home two awards

Aleksandar Dimitrievski, author of a BIRN’s story about a database for agricultural subsidies, was awarded first prize for investigative journalism for 2016, at a ceremony in Skopje, Macedonia in May 2017. Dimitrievski’s story documents the amount of agricultural subsidies granted to individuals and companies over four years, from 2010-2014, worth about 450 million euros.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia gave its annual investigative reporting award for 2016 to BIRN journalist Vlado Apostolov in February for his series of articles on properties connected to a Macedonian official, Vladimir Zdravev.

Apostolov received the “Yasar Erebara” award for three investigative articles on properties linked to the former chairman of the Council in the Skopje Municipality, published on BIRN Macedonia’s website Prizma.

Journalists in Serbia won two awards

Dragan Gmizic’s “Flatland Without Birds?”, a documentary about illegal bird hunting in Serbia, won the second prize in the EU Investigative Journalism Awards for 2016.

The film, co-produced by BIRN Serbia and Greenfield Productions, examines how the hunting of rare turtle doves and quail in Serbia is organised and asks whether it can be controlled. The documentary was aired on TV N1, TV CG, and Al Jazeera Balkans.

First prize went to Maja Zivanovic for her series of stories for VOICE, the Investigative and Analytic Centre of Vojvodina. Maja is currently working for BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight.

BIRN Serbia journalist Jelena Veljkovic’s story “The Secret of Vucic’s Tavern” won an award in the print media category at the annual competition for investigative journalism, organised by the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia. Her story looked into claim by Serbia’s Property Directorate that it was unaware an exclusive restaurant had opened in a part of the Belgrade Cooperative building, which the directorate had leased to the “Belgrade Waterfront” company. The directorate refused to answer whether it believed the use of public property by a private company was in accordance with the law.

Albania

Elvis Nabolli, a 2016 fellow in the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, in June 2017 won the award for best article by a young investigative journalist, as part of the part of the EU Investigative Awards in Albania. Nabolli won for his article, “An Albanian War on Drugs”, which was produced as part of a fellowship and published by Balkan Insight.

Call opens for 2018 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence

The call for the 12th edition of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence (BFJE) is open and will last until March 12.

Experienced journalists from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Greece and Serbia are eligible to apply.

Each year, 10 journalists are chosen through open competition to receive funding and professional support to conduct in-depth research into a topic of regional and EU significance. For 2018, the subject is TRUTH.

Applicants selected by an independent committee to take part in the fellowship will receive a €2,000 bursary and up to another €2,000 for travel and research expenses. They will also attend international seminars and receive continuous one-to-one mentoring for their stories. Stories from the programme will be published by BIRN and by prominent regional and international media outlets. The top three stories, as selected by an independent jury, will also receive cash awards.

The Application Form and Guidelines are on the BFJE website.

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, enabling them to travel, report and write their stories and develop their journalistic skills.

Aimed at promoting the development of a robust and responsible press, the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence has evolved into a signature programme that has helped shape journalism standards across the Balkans while boosting the careers of participating reporters.

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

BIRN’s Transitional Justice Programme Enters New Phase

Over the next three years, BIRN’s transitional justice initiative, which is supported by the EU, will focus on building the capacities of local media and civil society in order to promote reconciliation and intercultural dialogue.

From 2018 to the end of 2020, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network’s Balkan Transitional Justice Initiative will work to promote and strengthen transitional justice mechanisms and processes through regular, in-depth, high-quality reporting from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Supported by the European Union, BIRN has partnered with the Netherlands-based organisation Impunity Watch in order to increase and strengthen the capacities of local journalists, civil society activists and victims’ groups to monitor, effectively engage and shape ongoing transitional justice processes, including the implementation of the EU policy framework on transitional justice.

In the upcoming months, besides daily reporting on transitional justice issues, BIRN’s team will produce investigations across the region, televised debates in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and create a focus page about the newly-established Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

It will also continue to work on data journalism, update BIRN’s war crimes verdict map and develop a new database of wartime mass graves.

BIRN will also support local journalists through training sessions, study tours, small grants and mentoring to report on transitional justice.

Impunity Watch will hold workshops and produce policy papers about victims’ participation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

BIRN’s Transitional Justice Initiative has been run since 2011 and besides the EU, it has been supported by the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.