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.

Anja Vladisavljevic

Anja Vladisavljevic joined the Balkan Insight team in May 2018.

Anja worked as an editor for the Croatian edition of the French monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique from 2015 to 2017. She also worked as a journalist, editor and translator for regional website from 2017 to 2018.

She graduated from the Department of History of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Zagreb University.

Ban on BIRN Covering Erdogan Rally Left Unexplained

No explanation has been given why BIRN and other media outlets were denied accreditation to cover the rally held in Sarajevo by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish embassy in Bosnia and the Union of European Turkish Democrats, UETD – which organised the sixth assembly meeting of the UETD in Sarajevo – have yet to explain why BIRN and some other media outlets were denied permission to cover Sunday’s event at which the Turkish President was the star.

BIRN and several other media outlets were not given accreditation to cover the mass rally in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

BIRN first contacted organisers seeking accreditation on May 7, the same day the UETD said that press accreditation would be needed.

After receiving additional information on the documents journalists must submit, BIRN sent accreditation requests using the email address provided by the UETD for three of its journalists on May 8, and an additional request for one more of its reporters six days later.

BIRN delivered the complete documentation for all four journalists to the organisers by May 14.

The UETD confirmed on the same day that it had received all the documentation needed and would inform BIRN about the next steps.

However, no further email with information about where or how to get accreditation was ever received.

Contacted again by BIRN ahead of the rally, Ezgi Aslan, the UETD Secretary General’s Executive Assistant, responded by email on May 19, saying that “there were apparently small communication disruptions. You can now contact the same address again,” adding that “our colleagues will contact you as soon as possible.”

However, Lemija Demirbas, who was in charge of press accreditation, told a BIRN correspondent in Sarajevo on Sunday” “You are not on the list and this list is approved by the government …  and the embassy of Turkey,” leaving him unable to report from the rally.

Michael Colborne, a freelance journalist from Canada, had the same experience and told BIRN that it was never clear who was in charge of accreditations.

Bosnia’s Journalists’ Association has not made any official comment about this situation since, as it explained in a statement to BIRN, Bosnian institutions were not in charge of the event.

Neither the Turkish embassy nor the UETD and UEBD had responded to BIRN’s further inquiries by the time of publication.

The UETD’s headquarters is in Cologne, home to one of the biggest Turkish communities in Germany, and the organisation is close to Erdogan.

It has branches in other European cities with significant Turkish populations, and recently established a sister lobby organisation in Bosnia, the Union of European Balkan Democrats, UEBD.

Zafer Sirakaya, president of the UETD, earlier told BIRN that his organisation was an NGO and has no direct links to Erdogan or his party – but conceded that a bond of love existed between the UETD and the Turkish President.

Read more:

Journalists Barred from Covering Erdogan’s Sarajevo Rally

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson is a journalist, translator and former Reuters Bureau Chief for the Balkans and Special Correspondent for Central and Eastern Europe.

Matt started in journalism with Belgrade’s Radio B92 in 2001, before spending 14 years with Reuters in the Balkans, the Middle East and former Soviet Union. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Turkey, Ukraine, Egypt and Greece.
In 2016, Matt was editor of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. He re-joined BIRN in May 2018.

Resonant Voices Initiative Launches Anti-Radicalisation Projects

Ten pilot projects from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia have been launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, all aimed at challenging polarising, inflammatory and radicalising narratives.

Among the ten pilot projects launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, the team from Sarajevo have used a creative approach to create a ‘fake news’-busting game to combat misinformation and propaganda and to prevent the sharing of potentially dangerous content among young people in the Western Balkans.

“Nobody wants to be lied to and everyone wants to have fun” is the simple premise on which the team behind Provjeri.Me based their prototype.

Their online game ‘Faketective’ is an educational and entertaining tool which will help people to learn how to recognise and verify problematic content online. The player is put in the shoes of a young journalist who has several tasks before she gets a coveted job with a respected new media outlet.

In order to win the Faketective game, players must successfully debunk incidences of ‘fake news’. The project aims to improve the digital media literacy skills of young people in the Western Balkans.

The Ordinary Heroes project, also from Sarajevo, utilises the video content of oral histories of wartime inter-ethnic rescues to create short videos that look at the present day inter-ethnic tensions through the prism of these positive stories from the past, tackling the prevailing divisive narrative based on glorification or vilification of war-time political and military leaders.

The Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC)’s Ordinary Heroes video project changes the focus away from negative stories about wartime political and military leaders, focusing on positive stories of ordinary people who showed bravery.

Its videos target an audience that includes football fans or groups on social networks that have ties to nationalism.

Humans of the Balkans is a crowd-sourced platform for photos and stories of ordinary people from all over the region, to celebrate its diversity, beauty and potential.

The basic idea is very simple: building a common online space for ordinary people and their stories. While focusing on collecting and sharing positive and inspiring life stories, it also encourages contributors to identify problems and issues they see around them and suggest how they can be solved, so that injustices and grievances can be addressed.

Portal Kultura connects young bloggers and theatre enthusiasts who produce culture and arts focused content.

Portal Kultura’s tag line, which translates as “a generational scream against the reality in which we are growing up”, is both the inspiration for the project’s name (KRIK [Scream]) and captures its philosophy and strategy – giving young people a space to express themselves as bloggers, writers, creators and critics, encouraging them to think independently, embrace alternative views and speak out against divisions and hate in their communities.

The portal is run by a group of volunteers from Banja Luka who in the recent months organised workshops in Drvar, Kostajnica, Derventa and Kotor Varos as well as contributed to the organization of Applause Fest, a theatre festival in Banja Luka showcasing performances from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the portal’s own words: “We are bringing you stories from different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. How did our peers overcome hate speech? How have they resolved existing problems? How did they act preventatively in their local communities? You can find out all this by following our portal. We bring you stories that will not leave you indifferent. Stories that will make you think.”

Story2Tell, a project by the Skopje-based NEXUS Civil Concept, uses the power of human stories to shed light on the experience of one man who regrets his journey to Syria to participate in the war, and engages in positive messaging amid the prevalence of vulgar and violent content online in Macedonia. Story2Tell collected information about reactions to its video pilot project and found that the video drew strong emotional responses from viewers.

Pristina-based project Women of Resilience is an initiative determined to tip the balance in the public discourse and policy discussion about foreign fighters, currently dominated by male voices and experiences.

The Institute for Dialogue and Nondiscrimination strategically and sensitively brings women’s stories into the mix, focusing on empowering those left behind and those who followed their husbands to the conflict zone, giving them a platform to share their experiences to prevent future departures and build these women’s resilience to extremist propaganda and recruitment.

The Jasmine project, in collaboration with Gazeta Mendimi and the Women’s Center for Development and Culture Albania from Elbasan, works to train a new generation of journalists in writing about violent extremism to improve both the quantity and the quality of articles written on the subject in the Albanian language.

CVEinfo.AL is another initiative supported by Resonant Voices, which has developed a web portal and a virtual library of existing resources related to the fight against violent extremism in the Albanian language, as well as news, updates and information about ongoing and new initiatives in this field, to support Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism practitioners.

In Macedonia, statements that provoke hate among religious groups and issues between the religious groups themselves have been a longstanding issue. The Partnership for Actions on Cohabitation and Tolerance, or PACT, tackles the use and misuse of religion, religious messages and religious communities head-on by bringing together 20 future leaders from both communities to get to know one another.

No Hate Speech seeks to educate citizens in Presevo about the harmful effects of use of hateful propaganda and to promote the use of respectful and tolerant terms, targeting those who produce and distribute fake news, misinformation, or hate speech on the internet.

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.

The programme aims to equip critical voices in the target countries with the skills, know-how and resources to counter radicalisation, the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters and violent extremists, and other dangerous trends. It empowers a diverse group of civil society actors – activists, journalists, bloggers, educators and other online (and offline) influencers – to become resonant voices, able to counter violent extremism, to push back against extremist propaganda and to increase and amplify alternative, positive messages.

Impact Map – 2017

BIRN’s journalistic work produced in 2017 some very tangible social and political changes, both within the region and internationally, showing that non-profit media can influence the work of public institutions and authorities when applying high professional standard to their work.

Please click on the pinned locations on the map to read about the impact of BIRN’s reporting.