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.

Project for Investigative Journalism and Cooperation Between Media and Civil Society

BIRN Macedonia

Through the “Project For Investigative Journalism And Cooperation Between Media And Civil Society” BIRN Macedonia works with NGO representatives and journalists to build and foster efficient links between media and non-governmental organizations with a goal for greater visibility of the NGOs and creating environment for production of more relevant investigative stories.

Summary

The project aims to support the investigative journalists with financial support and providing a room for publishing the stories.  The Project is part of the USAID programme for strengthening independent media in Macedonia and is implemented in partnership with Center for Civil Communications, Senter for investigative journalism - SCOOP Macedonia, TV magazine KOD and daily newspaper KOHA.

The project which was launched in December 2012 has several different elements including fostering links between journalists and NGOs, training of NGO representatives, supporting the journalists to investigate and publishing their stories.

Macedonia’s media are troubled with many challenges. Closure of independent and critical media, increasing pressure and control of the government over numerous media outlets and rising trend of self-censorship have led to a journalism guided by political and business interests of media owners, limited space for objective reporting and have almost wiped out investigative reporting. At the same time, professional journalism standards are largely ignored.

With this project BIRN Macedonia promotes and tries to strengthen the relation between the media and NGOs by detecting the priority issues of common interest. Ten debates with different topic between journalists and NGOs are included. The goal is the participants to detect the topics that need to be challenged.

BIRN Macedonia supports the investigative journalism by opening eight calls for investigative stories. About 40 journalists will be awarded with financial support for in-depth investigation on specific topic. The selected journalists will be provided with mentors from BIRN and partner organizations staff who will guide the journalists through the investigative process.

The Project provides publishing the stories written by the selected journalists on a separate web site designed for the Project but also on other media. The web site will not serve only for publishing the stories but also as a data base of NGOs and experts in various fields so the journalists and NGO representatives can check the needed information and contacts.

BIRN Macedonia together with its partners will provide training and expertise for the NGOs and media through 10 workshops so they create common language, but also to train the NGOs to get bigger visibility in the media.

Together with the KOD TV magazine 12 investigative programs will be created in the framework of the Project.

The project was initiated by BIRN Macedonia in 2012 and was supported by USAID.

Information Sheet

Main Objective:
 
  • To bridge the current gap between journalists and non-governmental organizations on issues of public interest
  • To build operational and efficient partnerships between CSOs and media as base for more objective journalism, and more informed public.

Specific Objectives:

 
  • Establish partnership relations between media and CSOs that will enable a long- term cooperation, instead of one-off contacts on issues of public interest. Currently media tend to ignore or use the work of CSOs selectively, thus depriving the public of the big picture. At the same time, both media and CSO’s have not forged any strong ties or cooperation.
  • Achieve greater visibility of the work of CSOs and in turn greater media legitimacy; design a line of communication between media and CSOs, so CSOs can arm journalists with necessary reporting information in public interest helping their professional, fact-based, and objective information, resulting in more professional journalistic stories.
  • Support public interest journalism; By improving journalists’ skills, capacities, tools, information and offering financial resources for in depth and investigative reports, as well as room for publishing of their stories the project aims to create a pool of investigative journalists, create a web platform and contribute a significant number of reports on key issues.
  • Provide the public with better and more substantial information as base to make informed decisions (in their private lives, businesses and as members of the society), raise public awareness on key issues and stir debate.

Main Activities:

 
  • Detecting of media and CSOs common issues, through a series of public debates between journalists and CSOs representatives.
  • Research of the current media coverage of the detected common issues, through an in-depth monitoring of the way Macedonian media and journalists report those issues
  • Creating a common language for CSOs and media through 10 workshops for CSOs
  • Technical assistance to Macedonian journalists in reporting important issues on more professional, fact-based and objective way
  • Providing journalists and CSOs with a room for reporting for issues of common interest and for offering citizens important information to make right
  • Sharing information and news reporting materials with other Balkan countries

Target Groups:

 
  • Journalists and CSOs from Macedonia