“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

BIRN Investigation Shortlisted for International Prize

An investigation by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network has been shortlisted for the prestigious Global Shining Light Award.

The story “Making a Killing” was jointly produced with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and uncovered how billions of euros of arms from the Balkans and Eastern Europe are illegally ending up with Syrian rebels, including the Islamic State.

The award is sponsored by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, GIJN, an association of 155 non-profit organisations in 68 countries.

An international panel of judges selected the finalists from 211 projects, submitted by journalists in 67 countries.

The winners will be announced at the 2017 Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg in November.

In an announcement, the GIJN described the 12 shorted listed stories as “extraordinary investigative projects from around the world”.

The story was produced as part of “A Paper Trail to Better Governance” project supported by the Austrian Development Agency to promote rule of law, accountability and transparency in six South-Eastern Europe countries.

Pressure Rises on Journalists in the Balkans

Weakening EU and US influence in the Balkans and increased Russian influence, as well as growing political and economic pressures on journalists, have created a harsher environment for Balkan media, BIRN’s biennial meeting heard.

At the biennial meeting of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network on Saturday, Ana Petruseva, director of BIRN Macedonia, said the situation facing the media in the Balkans “seems to be going from bad to worse”.

In addition to the usual political and financial pressures, she said, the media is seeing new types of pressure – the labelling of reporters and media outlets as spies and foreign mercenaries, as well as the opening of a large number of fake news websites.

Petruseva said the flood of fake news was “creating a media noise” in which it is becoming difficult for the public to distinguish between real and fake information, as a result of which confidence in the media in general is declining.

“People are losing trust in the media, and start to see everything as propaganda and promotion,” Petruseva said at the BIRN meeting on Saturday in Kopaonik, Serbia, referring to the new challenges facing the Balkan media.

Wolfgang Petritsch, a BIRN Board member and the president of the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, warned the Balkan countries not to always count on EU support, as many in Brussels saw “stability as the priority” over reforms.

“The EU position has weakened owing to its internal problems. As long as it does not finish the process of internal reforms, there will be no strong EU role in the region,” he said, noting that while the promise of EU enlargement is fading, authoritarian regimes in the region are strengthening.

“Since no system has been established of how to handle enlargement, the situation will remain in the ‘twilight zone’,” Petritsch said.

Political analyst for The Economist and Balkan expert Tim Judah said the policy of “stabilitocracy”, whereby the EU and the US appear to tolerate authoritarian Balkan leaders who deliver stability, is essentially a pragmatic response.

“It means dealing with the leaders that we have, and dealing with the Balkans in the way that they are,” he said.

Judah said that while Western influence had decreased, Russian influence had grown, but that Moscow saw setbacks in recent months – giving the example of Macedonia, where Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has been ousted, and Montenegro, which joined NATO on June 5 despite Russian opposition.

“What is Russia’s interest? It is simple, they want to create within the region pro-Russian or neutral territories,” Judah said.

BIRN Board member and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe Stefan Lehne said the Balkan countries could move closer towards EU membership in different ways.

“Parallel to the very, very slow and very boring and complicated enlargement process there could be some process of horizontal enlargement. The Balkans countries should not join only country by country, but policy by policy,” Lehne said, listing Balkan countries’ participation in the Energy Community as an example of this.

BIRN board member and media expert Robert Bierman spoke of the recent experience of the media in the United States, where the administration of President Donald Trump has been targeting the press.

“Any weakness in the media will be pointed at. It doesn’t matter if two things are wrong and 98 are right, those two things become the most important in the world. It doesn’t matter that the administration is doing 98 things wrong and two things right,” Bierman said.

However, he added more optimistically that Americans appear more ready now to pay for editorial content, adding that the media are also continuing to do their job.

Before the panel, BIRN Regional Director Gordana Igric presented the results of the BIRN network’s projects in the last year, noting that the network had directly reached over five million people.

“In the past year, this number increased by over half a million people,” Igric said, adding that milestone stories had tackled such major issues as corruption, problems with public procurements and concessions. As a result of these investigations, officials have been removed and criminal charges filed.

Igric said that BIRN currently operates 16 websites in various languages, and has produced over 100 TV reports and films and held 50 training courses during the past year.

According to Igric, BIRN’s articles have been republished or cited in many respected foreign media, including The Guardian, the BBC, and Bloomberg. BIRN has also been very active in advocating the prosecution of war crimes and in participative budgeting activities.

The biennial BIRN network meeting continues until June 10 on Mount Kopaonik in Serbia.

BIRN – Regional Network Director

Outstanding individual sought for this exciting post, heading up the work of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Regional Network, BIRN Hub, the unique media development and human rights organisation in the Balkans. BIRN’s hard-hitting reporting and analysis has gained an unparalleled reputation in the 12 years since it was founded.

This post gives an opportunity to develop the network’s work at a time of key challenges in the Balkan region. The successful candidate will play a defining role in driving BIRN’s work over the coming years, develop and implement new strategies and extend and build partnerships across the region and internationally.

1.     WHO WE ARE?

The BIRN Network is a close-knit family of non-governmental, non-profit organisations, promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values with a presence across the Balkans. Tacking key issues of the region BIRN implements a range of programmes and projects. They focus on journalist training, publishing, broadcasting, media-monitoring, advocacy and debate, working with civil society organisations and creating public archives and databases.

We have country-based organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, while BIRN Hub acts as our umbrella organisation. It is a non-governmental, non-profit independent organisation registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina whose job is to act as the secretariat of BIRN’s individual country-based organisations.

Additionally, BIRN Hub manages the majority of the network’s regional programmes which are implemented in cooperation with our country-based or other organisations, journalists and consultants. The work of BIRN Hub includes capacity-building of the network, the quality control of editorial output and the management of websites at the regional level. It also includes journalist training and editorial production, implemented through several programmes.

Our network of journalists and editors also includes Montenegro, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, and beyond. We have a wide media presence; online, on social media, in print, television, radio. Balkan Insight is our flagship website.

 2.     WHAT DO WE SEEK?

A BIRN Regional Director (BIRN Hub), will have the following responsibilities:

  • Ensuring fiscal and legal compliance in the work of BIRN Hub, under the respective laws of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Ensuring the smooth operation of all projects and programmes implemented by the network
  • Ensuring compliance with donor requirements for projects and programmes implemented by BIRN Hub as the lead partner
  • Ensuring proper and timely staffing of the organisation
  • Leading and motivating employees and effectively managing the human resources of  BIRN Hub
  • Ensuring the effective administration of BIRN Hub operations including the efficient completion of all BIRN Hub’s duties as the network’s secretariat
  • Ensuring an exchange of information and decision-making processes within and between BIRN Hub, the BIRN network, the Steering Committee and Assembly, in compliance with Network Rules and Regulations, the BIRN Network Cooperation Agreement, BIRN Hub’s Statute and all legal provisions
  • Ensure Network Rules and Regulations are implemented and the values of the network are respected and maintained throughout across the BIRN family
  • Ensuring maintenance, smooth operations and regional cooperation within the BIRN network, in compliance with the Network Rules and Regulations
  • Ensuring the BIRN network’s compliance with international standards of journalism, libel laws, professionalism and objectivity
  • Leading the BIRN network’s fundraising activities with a specific focus on regional programmes and deepening cooperation within the network, including the design of programmes and projects, representation of BIRN Network in public and donor relations
  • Represent BIRN Hub and BIRN network in public, (including events, public appearances and donor conferences,) with the aim of furthering the network’s mission

3.     WHAT ARE WE LOOKING FOR?

  • An excellent understanding of Balkan politics, society, and interethnic relations, plus a strong editorial background
  • Strong media development experience and knowledge of international journalistic standards
  • Commitment, drive and passion for human rights and media freedom
  • At least five years of executive experience in the non-profit sector
  • A proven track record in fundraising and an understanding donor relations unique to the non-profit sector
  • A solid understanding of financial cycles, including budget preparation, analysis, financially-informed decision-making and reporting
  • Strong organisational skills, including planning, delegating, programme development and task facilitation
  • Strong leadership and interpersonal skills and a demonstrated ability to oversee and collaborate with staff of different backgrounds
  • Public appearance, diplomacy and speaking skills and excellence in conveying messages, including the vision of BIRN’s strategic future to staff, the Board, donors and public
  • Excellent English speaking and writing skills and knowledge of at least one language of the Balkans

4.     WHAT ARE WE OFFERING?

  • An opportunity to work with a motivated, diverse team of professionals and to pursue the BIRN’s mission
  • A 4-year contract (renewable) and a competitive salary package, after a 3-month probation period
  • Working from one of our offices in the Balkans with the opportunity of frequent travel around the region

Eligible candidates are invited to send an application including a CV, motivation letter and supplementary documentation to support their candidacy to dusica@birn.eu.com, no later than August 1, 2017.

The short-listed candidates will be invited to an interview by the 15th of August 2017. The successful candidate is expected to start with the 1st of October 2017.

BIRN Wins Four EU Investigative Journalism Awards

The 2017 regional scheme of the EU awarding investigative journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey, for the best investigative stories published in 2016, has come to an end.

The three-year award scheme established by the European Commission following the EU Enlargement strategy, aimed at monitoring the reform processes and keeping alive the historic momentum towards EU accession, has thus been concluded.

This year, BIRN won four awards, in KosovoSerbiaMacedonia, and Albania.

The outcome of the three-year scheme, implemented in 2015, 2016 and 2017, has been 64 awards for investigative stories produced by 88 journalists across the region.

The winning stories were selected from a total of 679 nominations.

The organisers noted the prominent place BIRN won for itself over the three years of the award scheme.

“Balkan Investigative Journalism Network (BIRN) and centers for investigative journalism (CIN) operating in several countries of the region were featured prominently among the awarded investigative stories (receiving a total of 18 out of 64 prizes awarded). It points to the role of independent, non-profit investigative journalism centers and networks in production of quality investigative journalism in the region”, the organisers wrote in the press release.

Balkan Fellowship Journalist Elvis Nabolli Wins Investigative Award

Elvis Nabolli, a 2016 fellow in the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, has won the award for best article by young investigative journalist, as part of the part of EU Investigative Awards in Albania.

Nabolli won for his article produced as part of the fellowship ‘An Albanian War on Drugs,’ published by Balkan Insight.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of the media implies a commitment to democracy, good governance and political accountability. These are some of prerequisites for a country to become part of the EU and one of the reasons why each of you play such an important role in creating EU standards,” said Jan Rudolph, Head of Political, Economic and Information Section announcing the EU Investigative Journalism Awards.

The Award ceremony was held on June 7th, 2017, at the European Union Info Center, Tirana. A total of 28 investigative stories were nominated for this year’s EU Award in Albania, 18 of whom from journalists under 35. Jury consisted of five prominent media professionals and civil society representatives: Rrapo Zguri, professor of journalism and jury chair, Aleksander Cipa, head of Union of Albanian Journalists, Valbona Sulce, media expert and member of Steering Council of public broadcaster, Lutfi Dervishi, media expert, and Adi Krasta, TV personality.

Valbona Sulce, member of the jury, stated that the jury faced a difficult task, given that the quality of nominations was good, covering a wide range of topics that are relevant to the society. In addition, the predominance of young journalists among the nominations received is also a good sign for the future of investigative journalism in the country, she said.

Resonant Voices Workshops Begin Across Balkans

A series of interactive workshops has started in five Western Balkan countries aimed at enabling critical voices to respond to dangerous messages and radicalisation online.

In cooperation with CIJA US and Talk 2.0, BIRN has organised workshops in Skopje, Tirana, Pristina, Belgrade and Sarajevo with the participation of more than 80 activists, journalists, bloggers, educators, religious communities representatives and other online and offline influencers in order to help them develop online communication strategies to respond to dangerous content.

The training sessions were led by Sanjana Hattotuwa, special advisor at the ICT 4 Peace Foundation, and Sarah Oh, a US-based communication expert, while participants also had the opportunity to hear from Facebook experts and Balkan-based organisations such as Sbunker, Halakate, Helsinki Committee, Vidiovo, Hocu.ba, Istinomer and others.

“In recent months we have seen increased propaganda, hate speech and calls for violence online, which in some cases like in Kosovo or Macedonia resulted in physical attacks on prominent activists and political figures. In parallel, there is a global trend to curb free media, either through fake news or economic and political pressure. In a circumstances like this, we believe our initiative will help local stakeholders to respond to these negative trends in a timely and proper way,” BIRN’s project manager Marija Ristic said.

Workshops were held under the umbrella of the Resonant Voices Initiative – a project implemented by the CIJA US, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and Talks 2.0.

The initiative aims to challenge extremist narratives in public discourse throughout the Western Balkans – in particular those disseminated online – and 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 will also empower 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.

To learn more about the project, follow the Resonant Voices Initiative on Facebook and on Twitter.

Enhancing Network Performance and Online Reporting on Kosovo-Serbian Relations and Future of Bosnia

BIRN Hub – past programme

The aims to enhance the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Albania through continuous reporting on two pressing issues: the Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo-Serbia relations. It does this through debates on social networks and blogs, and through republications of relevant BIRN articles in local media.

Summary

It is of great importance to contribute to the enhancement of the democratization process in the Balkans by supporting the work of independent media, and consequently improving the content of the media and allowing BIRN to continue to serve as an independent, reliable, high quality platform for journalists, media organizations and others.

As part of this project, BIRN produces high quality articles that tackle issues surrounding the two topics in focus- Future of Bosnia and Kosovo-Serbia relations- and give them visibility in their respective countries and the wider region.

In addition, BIRN endeavours to further advance the professional skills of investigative journalistic teams in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania through on-the-job training. This project also works to steer online public debate through social networks and blogs.

Finally, BIRN aims to ensure that this project and these crucial issues remain visible. It secures local visibility in Bosnia and Herzegovina by translating produced content in Bosnian language, and enhances the professional capacities of media in all the countries by republishing articles from BIRN’s flagship Balkan Insight web site in local, regional and international print and electronic media outlets. The most important articles are translated in local languages to have a greater impact.

Under the project, BIRN's editorial team continues with its regular on-the-job trainings with journalists, and a special focus page has been created for each topic.

The Future of Bosnia page will have additional blogs that will attract new readers to the web site. In addition, active online campaigns are being carried out to promote the articles on social networks (Google Ad campaigns, Facebook campaigns, etc.).

This project ultimately aims to provide the general public with better, more relevant and insightful reporting.

This should consequently affect not only the general public but also decision-makers, who will be encouraged to take a more active role in influencing the issues that affect them and their constituencies.

Although it is difficult to measure the impact the articles have on the general public, Google Analytics allows us to see how many readers visited our web site over a certain period, where they are from, and which articles interested them most. We can also see which institutions visit our site.

In cooperation with media outlets in the region, our Development staff will keep track of republications in local and international media by collecting necessary data (pages from the newspapers and picture files which contain online articles).

This project is funded by the Balkan Trust for Democracy. BIRN Hub is implementing the project in cooperation with BIRN Serbia, BIRN Kosovo, BIRN Macedonia and BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Information Sheet

Main Objective:
 
  • The overall objective of the proposed project is to enhance the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Albania through continuous reporting on burning issues (Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo-Serbian relations), through debating on social networks and blogging, and through republications in local media.
  • It is of great importance to contribute to the enhancement of democratization process in the Balkans by supporting the constant work of independent media, and consequently improving the content of the media, allowing BIRN to keep serving as an independent, reliable, high quality platform for journalists, media organizations and others.

Specific Objectives:

 
  • To produce high quality articles that will tackle Future Bosnia and Kosovo-Serbian relations’ topics and give them a visibility in respective countries and wider region;
  • To further advance journalistic skills of investigative journalistic teams in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, thorugh on-the-job training;
  • To steer online public debate through social networks and blogs;
  • To secure local visibility in Bosnia and Herzegovina by translating produced content in Bosnian language;
  • To enhance professional capacities of media in these countries by republishing articles from BIRN’s flagship Balkan Insight web site in local, regional and international print and electronic media outlets.

Main Activities:

Training and publishing

  • BIRN editorial team with continue with its regular on-the-job trainings with journalists, enhancing their journalistic skills;
  • Kosovo-Serbian Relations Special Focus Page created;
  • Journalists will report on Future Bosnia and Kosovo-Serbian relations’ topics, making them visible for local readers and the ones from abroad;
  • The most important articles will be translated in local languages, so that higher impact could be achieved;
  • Future Bosnia Focus Page will have additional blogs that will attract new readers to the web site;

Republication and articles promotion

  • The articles will be offered to local print, electronic, and online media for republications;
  • Active online campaigns (visibility actions) for the articles’ promotion on social networks (Google Adds campaigns, Facebook campaigns).

Target Groups:

 
  • General public, local decision-makers, Diaspora, international stakeholders