Media reporting on organised crime and corruption in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia

A regional comparison of how media report on cases of organized crime and corruption in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia analysing the main obstacles faced by reporters.

BIRN’s project “Exercising the Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia” supported by the German Federal Foreign Office Stability Pact fund, was a regional, 10-month long project with aim to contribute to professionalizing media reporting on legal proceedings related to organized crime and corruption.

The project also intended to increase public awareness on the issues of access to justice and contribute towards more transparent and more responsive institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

The project resulted with three unique country-based and one cross-regional analysis, the first of its kind offering a regional perspective on this topic.

Aside from the looking at how media report on the topic, the study also sought to unpack why media report on organized crime and corruption in the way they do. Specifically, the study sought to identify the challenges and constraints faced by media organizations across the region when it comes to reporting on organized crime and corruption.


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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 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.


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.

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.

BIRN Kosovo Publishes Report on Media and Rule of Law

Following a regional conference at which a regional report on the relationship between media and rule of law institutions on fighting corruption and organised crime was launched, BIRN Kosovo held a roundtable event to discuss the topic at the local level.

The roundtable, which took place on January 30, was organised as part of a mutual project with BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina and BIRN Serbia called “Exercising Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia”, an endeavor supported by the German Foreign Office Stability Pact.

More than 30 representatives from the NGO sector, Kosovo media groups, Kosovo Police, and the Kosovo judiciary—including representatives from Kosovo basic courts and the Kosovo Prosecution—were present. Some interviewees who contributed to the report’s study of Kosovo were also present at the roundtable.

The panel consisted of seven people: Kreshnik Gashi, a BIRN editor who also moderated the discussion; Arben Qirezi, the author of the Kosovo report; Enver Peci, the head of the Kosovo Supreme Court; Ewa Korpi, EULEX prosecutor; Besim Kelmendi, prosecutor at the Kosovo State Prosecution; Baki Kelani, spokesperson from the Kosovo Police; and Petrit Çollaku from the Kosovo Association of Journalists.

The panel discussed this central question: Who sets the agenda on reporting organised crime and corruption?

The head of the Supreme Court of Kosovo, Enver Peci, said that this court has published 2,000 verdicts, and that the Supreme Court has achieved success despite complaints about financial problems.

State prosecutor Besim Kelmendi said that cases of organised crime and corruption “are not easy to investigate”, and that the biggest difficulties are with high-level corruption cases.

“We have prosecutors that are more open and some that hesitate to communicate with media, and I can say that prosecutors should not hesitate to talk to media within the legal framework”, Kelmendi said.

EULEX prosecutor Ewa Korpi talked about the presence of fake news in reporting on organised crime and corruption.

“During this year’s local elections, I had several cases when it was reported that a certain investigation was over while I had that case on my table, investigating it. And this for sure comes from political pressure, and I have to say that in the place where I come from, Sweden, I have never seen such a case”, Korpi said.

After the report was presented, participants were given the opportunity to pose questions to the panel and engage in an interactive discussion. Representatives from media organizations and NGOs in Kosovo were pleased to have a chance to address questions on access to public documents to representatives of the panel and the judiciary.

Through this report, BIRN Kosovo aims to foster freedom of expression and transparency in relevant institutions in Kosovo and to contribute to the debate among journalists, civil society and public officials of judicial institutions on the elimination of barriers to reporting on organised crime and corruption.

Revealing Corruption Remains Challenge for Balkan Media

Reporters on corruption and organised crime in the Balkans are subject to a range of different pressures and challenges – as our comparison of reporting on such cases in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia shows.

Organised crime and corruption are among the key challenges facing the societies of the Western Balkans, with corruption in particular being a key grievance for ordinary citizens and voters.

As in any democracy, the media play a crucial role when it comes to informing the public on these subjects and shaping public debates.

The extent to which the media are able to do so objectively and independently will help the public to both better understand the scale of the problem and assess what their elected representatives and institutions, tasked with upholding the rule of law, are doing to combat organised crime and corruption.

During 2017, BIRN conducted a regional study that examined how the media report on organised crime and corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

Aside from the looking at how media report on the topic, the study also sought to unpack why media report on organised crime and corruption in the way they do.

Specifically, our study sought to identify the challenges and constraints faced by media organisations across the region when it comes to reporting on organised crime and corruption.

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BIRN to Host Regional Conference on Media and Rule of Law

BIRN will host a regional conference on access to information and media reporting on investigative and judicial proceedings in cases of organised crime and corruption on Thursday in Sarajevo.

The event will bring together representatives of the judiciary, non-governmental organisations and media representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

The conference is being organised as part of a project entitled ‘Exercising Freedom of Expression and the Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia’, supported by German Foreign Office Stability Pact funds and implemented by BIRN Hub in cooperation with BIRN Serbia and BIRN Kosovo.

In 2017, BIRN undertook a regional study which examined how the media report on organised crime and corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

As well as looking at how media report on these topics, the study also sought to analyse why media report on organised crime and corruption in the way that they do.

The study also sought to identify the challenges and constraints faced by media organisations across the region when it comes to reporting on organised crime and corruption.

The media monitoring was carried out in the period from April-June 2017 and involved six media outlets in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia respectively as well as five in Kosovo.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 72 people during this period – 29 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 22 in Kosovo and 21 in Serbia. Among those interviewed were a broad range of current or former judges, prosecutors, policemen, lawyers, editors, journalists, politicians and experts.

The project resulted in three unique country-based analyses and one cross-regional analysis, the first such study to offer a regional perspective on this topic.

The findings will be presented on Thursday in Sarajevo, together with a debate divided into three panels, including guests from the media, police and judiciary across the region, who will conduct a dialogue on issues arising from the analyses.

Doruntina Baliu

Doruntina Baliu is an investigative journalist, who has been working at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), for the last two years.

She graduated, earning the title Bachelor in Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Prishtina”Hasan Prishtina”.

Her education and professional background includes numerous trainings and workshops related to investigative reporting, on many cases focusing on the education field.

Doruntina has worked in investigative articles and tv shows on different stories about corruption and has won the ‘Story of the year in education reporting” prize, for junior journalists given by the Journalist Association of Kosovo and GIZ.

BIRN Journalist Wins “Best Story on Education” Award

On November 30, 2017, BIRN Kosovo journalist Doruntia Baliu was awarded the “Best Story on Education” prize by the Kosovo Journalist Association and German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ). The award was given to the young journalist for her investigation into a grade falsification scandal in the municipality of Drenas. The story, named “The Silence toward Falsifying Grades,” was illustrated with a show published as a weekly program on “Life in Kosovo.”

The investigation into the Shote Galica School revealed that a teacher named Fehmi Ramaj curved and falsified grades for 12 students. The whistleblower in the story, Ramadan Ramaj, had noticed that the teacher, by the end of 2013/2014 academic year, had falsified the grades of 12 students, including his son’s, in the subject of biology.

Once Ramadan Ramaj provided proof, the teacher himself admitted his wrongdoings in front of other teachers, the school principal, as well as the Education Director. Ramaj had reported this case to the school principal, Sokol Ramaj, who happens to be his brother; however, all the principal did was issue a warning for Fehmi Ramaj, which, according to Ramadan Ramaj, was not enough. Ramadan Ramaj sent the case to the Education Director in Drenas, Sadik Tahiraj.

However, even Tahiraj did not take the issue seriously enough or do anything more than issuing another written warning. The whistleblower, Ramadan Ramaj, continued his struggle to bring attention to the case, which according to him was a crime against students’ success, by going to Prishtina several times to take the case to higher institutions. He then submitted a report to BIRN’s anti-corruption platform According to whistleblower Ramaj, the reason why Fehmi Ramaj had this impunity was because he had a so-called ‘certified booklet’ from the political entity Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

“Life in Kosovo” managed to find several other breaches in the case.

Ramadan Ramaj, despite the pressure against him, sent the case to the Kosovo Police. As a result, the Education Director of Municipality of Drenas, Tahiraj, was dismissed from his duty due to neglecting the reported case and staying “silent about grade falsification.”

Doruntina Baliu’s investigative reporting revealed this case and the damages it caused to the education system.

BIRN Kosovo Organizes Discussions with Law Students at Prishtina Basic Court


On November 27 and 29, 2017, BIRN Kosovo organized two discussions as part of the “Promoting Transparency in Kosovo’s Judicial System” project, supported by USAID’s Justice System Strengthening Program, JSSP, at the Prishtina Basic Court.

During the first discussion, moderated by BIRN Kosovo’s Chief Editor Kreshnik Gashi, law students were briefed regarding the audio and video recording devices in court hearings. According to the panelists, it is highly important that participants of the court proceedings are fully committed to maintaining the integrity of the proceedings and operating in favor of justice. Moreover, public access to court records and hearings holds the courts accountable by ensuring that any errors, misunderstandings, or injustices are completely transparent. Lastly, according to the judges, public access to court records and proceedings assists in upgrading our justice system to the highest standard of accuracy and integrity.

The publicity of detention hearings sparked a lengthy debate among the students and judges during the second discussion, held on November 29, at the Prishtina Basic Court. This time, the discussion hosted not only law students from the University of Prishtina “Hasan Prishtina”, but also students from the Faculty of Law at AAB College in Prishtina. The panelists briefed the students on the standards that limit the circumstances in which the detention hearing may be followed and closely observed by the media,

the public, and court monitors. They also talked about specific cases where the media, observers, and the wider public may not be granted with the opportunity to closely follow such proceedings.

BIRN Kosovo, under the “Increasing Transparency in Kosovo’s Judicial System” Project, supported by USAID’s JSSP, will continue to conduct debates of similar nature in the coming months.