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.

Exercising the Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia

BIRN Hub

“Exercising the Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia” is a project intended to increase public awareness on issues of access to justice and contribute towards more transparent and more responsive institutions in these three countries.

Summary

The regional project will result in three country-based and one cross-regional analysis, the first of its kind, offering a regional perspective on the accessibility of public institutions in the Western Balkans.

BIRN Film on Wartime Home Swaps Gets TV Premiere

BIRN’s new film ‘Your House was My Home’, about how war forced villagers in Serbia and Croatia to exchange homes with each other to save their lives, premieres on Al Jazeera Balkans on Tuesday.

‘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, has its television premiere on Al Jazeera Balkans on Tuesday at 5.05pm local time.

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.

“There has never been ‘humane relocation’ except in the heads of nationalist leaders and their devastating policies in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia,” said the film’s director, Janko Baljak.

“Relocations of this kind were carried out forcibly and left unimaginable consequences on the lives of people and on relations between nations who lived in peace and harmony before the war,” he added.

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.

“The duty and obligation of engaged documentary film maker is a continuous fight against short-term memory,” he said.

See more information about the film here.

BIRN Summer School Day 4: How to Scale Up Investigation

On the fourth third day of BIRN’s Summer School in Dubrovnik, journalists heard how to pitch stories, structure investigative projects and use open data.

The fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism in the historic city of Dubrovnik on Thursday started with a session on pitching story ideas, run by Lawrence Marzouk, editor with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Marzouk explained how stories can be pitched to editors without overpromising while bearing in mind the possible angle, sources and the outcomes.

“You need a clear idea; do not spread a lot of different things,“ he said.

Marzouk said journalists should try not promise too much from a story and must be realistic, but their stories have to be fresh and new, workable and possible, to explain why something is important.

“At the beginning, you should at least have a theory in your head, something you would try to prove,“ he said.

Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, continued her lecture on how to “follow the money“.

She explained how to gather publicly available information about companies and how to research their financial statements and assets.

“A financial statement summarizes the revenues, costs and expenses incurred during a specific period of time,“ Patrucic explained.

In the afternoon session, Blake Morrison, lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, advised journalists on how to pitch stories and structure investigative projects.

“You should always think of how to better communicate the story, to use the audio-video material, the data,” he said.

During the last Thursday’s session, BIRN’s Marzouk shed light on a case study about the arms trade from the Balkans and Central Europe to the Middle East.

Journalists heard how to use open data to trace and track the arms trade.

Marzouk explained that, while researching a “controversial industry” like the arms trade, journalists “have to harvest all the possible open source databases” because the industry is highly regulated, meaning that there is a lot of documentation.

During the fourth day, participants at the Summer School also continued to work on their investigation proposals that they will present on Friday.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School: The Art of Interviews and Tracing Money

On the third day of BIRN’s Summer School, journalists heard how to conduct interviews and investigate offshore industries.

On day three of the BIRN summer school in Dubrovnik, Blake Morrison, the lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held a session on the “art of interviewing” and on how to convince difficult sources to talk, describing interviews as a crucial component of the journalistic job.

The task was “how to get the information from the people. And to do it ethically,” he said.

“My philosophy on interviewing is pretty simple… Think of it as a blind date,” he noted,  explaining that the interviewee needs to “be understood.

“It’s very important to be curious. If you don’t understand something, don’t presume, ask,” he continued.

Morrison explained that there are three types of interview: information interviews, which involve collecting information on something; accountability interviews, asking a person to explain his or her acts; and emotional interviews, in which person sheds light on his or her emotional perspective.

Morrison emphasised the need for preparation and gave insight into why some people agree to give an interview: vanity, the need to be understood, self-interest, desperation, guilt and curiosity.

“I really believe as a journalist is that our commitment to honesty is crucial,” Morrison said.

The workshop on data journalism and using advanced internet research continued on Wednesday.

Henk van Ess, who works with a number of European media outlets, as well as Bellingcat, continued his training on data journalism, answering questions from the participants through stories he has covered over the years.

He showed the participants how to use open sources and social media for their investigative stories, showing the example of the work he did in tracing the ISIS executer, Jihadi John.

Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, also held an interactive lecture on how to “follow the money” and how to investigate offshore industry.

She conducted an exercise on tracking money and on shell and shelf companies through various databases, both open-source and paid-for.

“Many of offshore companies have a legitimate purpose in the business word, however, they could be manipulated by criminals to hide their crimes, money laundering,“ Patrucic observed.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School Day 2: Social Media, Fact-Checking for Investigative Journalists

BIRN’s Summer School continued on Tuesday with sessions exploring data journalism and fact-checking methods. s.

Head trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, Blake Morrison, showed BIRN Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism how to use a creative approach to fact-checking in Dubrovnik.

An interactive exercise explored the difference between supposition and proof and how to separate fact from suspicion, while determining standards for fact-checking.

Monday’s workshop on data journalism continued into its second day. Christiaan Triebert, a conflict researcher with Bellingcat, led the group. Bellingcat has achieved notoriety for its utilisation of open source information to investigate armed conflicts and corruption, and has won multiple awards.

During the workshop, participants learned about analytical tools required for data journalism, while Triebert explained the process of digital open source investigation, and how it can improve investigative reporting skills.

The middle of the session examined the capacity of geolocation tools to pinpoint exact places and how to use satellite imagery as a fact-checking tool. Triebert explained how advanced internet applications such as Google Maps can bolster research underpinning complex investigative stories.

“But you will still need traditional reporting and journalists on the ground,“ Triebert said.

Henk van Ess, who works with various European media outlets, as well as Bellingcat, also provided data journalism training, answering questions from BIRN Summer School participants about using social media as an investigative tool.

Journalists learned Facebook data mining methods, how to find elusive people through checking secret IDs, and how to discover closed groups or find people working for security agencies. In short, “how to search over two trillion Facebook postings in a clever way,“ he said.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

Eighth BIRN Summer School Opens in Croatia

BIRN’s latest Summer School opened on Monday in Dubrovnik with interactive sessions on advanced digital research and use of open data sources.

Some 35 reporters from the Balkans and across the world gathered on Monday in the historic resort city of Dubrovnik in Croatia for the eighth BIRN Summer School Master Class on Investigative Journalism.

After greeting this year’s participants, Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held an interactive exercise and discussion about the challenges of investigative reporting. Morrison shared sources and interview techniques and tips on researching complex investigations.

The first day continued with an introductory workshop on data journalism led by Christiaan Triebert, a conflict researcher with Bellingcat, a multi-award winning collective that uses online open source information to investigate armed conflicts and corruption.

During the workshop, participants learnt about the analytical tools needed for data journalism while Triebert explained the process of a digital open source investigation, research and verification, and how to use digital tools to uncover corruption and crime. “There is so much information available online,“ he said.

Henk van Ess, who works with various European media and Bellingcat, meanwhile showed how to go “fast and furious with stuff that seems impossible to validate”.

Van Ess shared plenty of practical tips to validate information from social media and other open sources.

Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters

In the afternoon, the participants were divided up into smaller groups for in-depth sessions with Reuter’s editor Morrison.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Articles Quoted in International Reports

Articles and reports published by BIRN in recent months have been quoted and referenced in various European publications about media, minorities, democratisation, foreign fighters and radicalisation.

BIRN is quoted in the ‘Reporting Crisis in South East Europe: Case Studies in Six SEE Countries’ report series by the South East European Network for Professionalisation of Media, published in August 2017, for its media monitoring on issues like censorship and self-censorship, and also mentioned for its investigative reporting achievements.

BIRN is also quoted in ‘Building Democracy in the Yugoslav Successor States:  Accomplishments, Setbacks, and Challenges since 1990’, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, Christine M. Hassenstab, and Ola Listhaug from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and published by Cambridge University Press in May 2017.

Around 20 different articles published by BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight over the last five years are quoted in the book.

The report ‘Radicalization and Foreign Fighters in the Kosovo Context – An analysis of international media coverage of the phenomena’, published in June 2017, quotes Balkan Insight and Prishtina Insight articles about the role of online propaganda in Balkan jihadi environments and recruitment, and court cases against Kosovo terror suspects.

“Since 2014, the high proportion of foreign fighters from Kosovo and challenges related to radicalisation have been extensively covered by international English-language print and online media,” the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs says in the publication.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), established by the Council of Europe, an independent human rights monitoring body specialised in questions relating to racism and intolerance, published a report about minority rights in Serbia in May, which quoted a number of Balkan Insight articles from recent years.

“There won’t be European integration without free press”

Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, director of BIRN Serbia, about media freedom in the region.

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) – a think tank focused on South-East Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus – considers media freedom a strategic topic in the region.

After attending the Civil Society Forum of the Western Balkans Series in Trieste from July 10 to 12, 2017 as part of the “Media Freedom: a very European issue” panel, the organisation gathered opinions from media practitioners in the Balkans on the issue.

Among them was Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, director of BIRN Serbia, who said that media freedom should not be underestimated. “There won’t be European integration without free press,” she pointed out.

Dubrovnik to Host BIRN’s Investigative Journalism School

Dubrovnik and its stunning coastline will be the setting for the BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting in 2017.

The school brings together some of the world’s best journalists and trainers for six-days in Mlini, a fishing village on the outskirts of the UNESCO-recognised city.

Between August 20 and 26, reporters will have the opportunities to learn cutting-edge investigation skills while enjoying the delights of Adriatic Sea.

Reuters’ editor Blake Morrison, three times finalist for Pulitzer investigative award, has been appointed lead trainer, and will be joined by multiple-award-winning reporter/editor Miranda Patrucic from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Henk van Ess, an expert in Open Source Investigative Journalism, among others.

As part of the school, you will learn how to dig for data, convince difficult sources to talk, transform your research into sparking prose and harness the power of videos.

Tutorial Summer School:

The training will provide a wealth of knowledge for both inexperienced and experienced investigative journalist. After training in the morning for all participants, break-out sessions in the afternoon will give you the choice to focus on certain, niche subjects. BIRN is also introducing working lunches, during which experienced investigative journalists will be on hand to impart their tricks and advise younger colleagues.

Investigative Story Fund:

The 30 reporters selected to take part, of which 20 will hail from the Balkans, will work together in groups throughout the week to develop an idea for a hard-hitting investigation, which will be presented to a panel of judges on the final day.

The three best story ideas will be awarded with funds ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 euros. Journalists will be guided by the lead trainer and BIRN’s investigative editor.

Croatian coast

Mlini is a pretty fishing village located 10 kilometres south of Dubrovnik, the so-called Pearl of the Adriatic.

It offers a quiet setting with stunning beaches and excellent seafood, while its bigger neighbour is internationally renowned for its fascinating history and breathtaking architecture.

Participants will have the chance to enjoy the idyllic surroundings while honing their investigative journalism skills.

Enroll now