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.

BIRN Cited in International Reports

Monitoring reports produced by BIRN and articles published in its regional publication Balkan Insight continue to be quoted in international reports about media, human rights and politics in the region.

Freedom House’s annual country reports for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Moldova, published in Nations in Transit 2018 under the title ‘Confronting Illiberalism’ in April this year, quote Balkan Insight articles on transitional justice, inter-ethnic relations, politics, the economy and the situation in the media

The Media Sustainability Index for 2017 published by IREX in May, in its Europe and Eurasia section, mentions BIRN when describing the media situation in the region, specifically media freedom, lawsuits against media organisations and journalists, as well as BIRN’s reporting on corruption and its training programmes.

The US State Department report for 2017 on human rights in Albania, published in April, quotes BIRN Albania’s research about media censorship in the country. The report also mentions that in 2017 a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists from Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors.

In the Media Landscape – Serbia report, published by the European Journalism Centre in May, the results of the Media Ownership Monitor carried out by BIRN and Reporters without Borders Germany, as well as articles related to media published by Balkan Insight, are quoted throughout the.

Read more:

BIRN Articles Quoted in International Reports

BIRN Cited as Source in International Reports

Between Pressures and Praises – BIRN Network Annual Report 2017

In 2017, BIRN Network operated in an environment of declining media freedoms and unregulated media markets, where authorities and pro-governmental media outlets pressured members of the Network and its journalists; nevertheless, BIRN received national and international prizes as well as different kinds of informal praise.

An unfavourable media situation and the lack of proper cooperation with institutions—sometimes even hostile attitude towards BIRN—occasionally hinders the work of the organisation. However, through this report, we also underscore the best results of BIRN’s work, including the praise it has received.

The report shows what the organisation did to offer high quality journalistic work and to provide citizens with reliable, timely and in-depth reporting as well as BIRN’s contribution to improving media freedom and openness of public institutions. It also highlights the instances in which BIRN’s work had a strong political and social impact, showing that—despite difficulties—professional journalistic reporting can conclude in tangible results.

The whole report is available here [link].

BIRN Macedonia Wins Investigative Reporting Award

BIRN Macedonia on Tuesday won second prize in the prestigious Nikola Mladenov award for investigative reporting.

The prize was given for the Foreign Investments Uncovered database on foreign investments in Macedonia announced by the government from 2007 to 2016.

“BIRN’s journalists have provided the public with a comprehensive insight into the real value of foreign investments, as well as into the unjustified spending of huge amounts from the state budget to support the entry of foreign investments,” said Biljana Petkovska, director of the Macedonian Media Institute, which grants the award.

The first prize went to Menche Atanasova Tochi for a series of stories about suspicious imports of drugs, published on Nova TV’s website, a study that, according to the commission, showed serious abuses by state institutions and manipulation by some pharmaceutical companies.

The third prize was shared by Peter Klincharski for the story ‘Lost in 1,000 Translations’, which was broadcast by TV Alsat-M, and Liridona Veyseli for the story ‘Where is the Jihadist’s Headquarters in Macedonia?’, published on the Zhurnal website.

The award was given for the 17th time, as part of efforts to promote professional journalism and democratic values ​​in the country.

BIRN’s database Skopje 2014 Uncovered, detailing the cost of the capital’s grand revamp, won the Nikola Mladenov first prize in 2016.

BIRN Participates in Media Policy Forum in Moldova

The Media Policy Forum was organised in Chisinau by Freedom House, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and Internews, and co-sponsored by USAID, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and BIRN.

“In the last few years in Moldova, we cannot talk about progress, but more about regression,”  Nadine Gogu, executive director of the Independent Journalism Centre in Chisinau, told the Media Policy Forum in the Moldovan capital on Tuesday.

The biggest problems identified by the speakers at the forum related to the increasing politicisation of the country’s media and the alleged concentration of ownership in the hands of proxies for the ruling party, which was described as a threat to the country’s democracy.

The president of the Moldovan parliament, Andrian Candu, told the forum however that “it is important that the media should be allowed to raise its economic capacity”.

Candu argued that the media should have more access to public information and that the debates at the forum should help politicians to improve mass media legislation in Moldova.

But Moldovan media NGOs complained about the unwillingness of the authorities to offer more rights to journalists.

Freedom House described Moldova as a country with a ‘partly free’ press in its 2017 Freedom of the Press index.

Participants at a panel moderated by Tim Judah, a special correspondent for The Economist, stressed the need to increase the level of media literacy in the country as a tool to combat propaganda and so-called ‘fake news’.

The director of Romanian Centre for Independent Journalism, Ioana Avadanei, described a successful media literacy programme that was implemented in some schools in Romania with young pupils.

“It is not so much fake news that causes trouble, it is disinformation that comes in many shapes and form and it’s not only about banning content from social media, it is about how to educate people today,” Avadanei said.

Credit: Freedom House in Moldova
Photo: Freedom House in Moldova

BIRN’s Macedonia Country director Ana Petruseva noted how investigative journalism had played a very significant role in the fight against the concentration of media power and the disinformation spread by government-controlled media in Macedonia over the past few years.

“We had a situation when on three to four private TV stations, we could see the same exact report… the only different thing was the voiceover,” Petruseva recalled.

The Media Policy Forum was organised in Chisinau by Freedom House, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and Internews, and co-sponsored by USAID, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and BIRN.

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 KALLXO.com 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.

Albania

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.

Municipalities Uncovered: New BIRN Macedonia Database Published

Ahead of the October 15 local elections, BIRN Macedonia published ‘Municipalities Uncovered’, a database on the promises and accomplishments of mayors in the 80 Macedonian municipalities plus the capital, Skopje, during their current mandate.

The results show that mayors delivered less than half the capital projects they planned during their four years in office.

The BIRN database, published on September 20, gives Macedonians a more accurate understanding of what projects were promised and realised between the last local elections in 2013 and the upcoming vote on October 15.

Many of the current mayors are competing for a new term.

The database aims to remind the politicians about their past promises and help voters identify those that they did not deliver.

The database also analyses the municipal budgets for capital investments as well as their overall budgets from 2013 to 2016.

It shows that over the four-year period, the mayors pledged to spend a total of 762 million euros on such projects but actually invested less than half of that – 336 million euros. This was 46.7 per cent of the initially planned budget for capital investments.

The database presents data on how much the municipalities spent on capital investments per capita ranging from 1,170 euros per capita over this period in Novaci, 673.4 euros in Makedonska Kamenica, to the three rural, mainly ethnic Albanian municipalities, Aracinovo and Saraj, which spent the least money on infrastructure.

Aracinovo holds the worst record, having spent only 24.7 euros per capita.

The local election campaign in Macedonia started on September 25.

A tough political battle is expected, pitting the now governing Social Democrats, SDSM, against the right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which held power nationally for 11 years and was ousted in May.

Project for Investigative Journalism and Cooperation Between Media and Civil Society

BIRN Macedonia
For the ‘Project For Investigative Journalism And Cooperation Between Media And Civil Society’, BIRN Macedonia is working with NGO representatives and journalists to build and foster efficient links between media and non-governmental organisations with the goal of creating greater visibility for the NGOs and creating an environment for the production of more relevant investigative stories.

Donor: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Summary

The project aims to support investigative journalists by giving financial support and providing a space for their stories to be published. The project is part of the USAID programme for strengthening independent media in Macedonia and is implemented in partnership with Center for Civil Communications, Center 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, and supporting journalists to investigate and publish their stories.

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

With this project, BIRN Macedonia is promoting and seeking to strengthen the relationship between the media and NGOs by identifying priority issues of common interest. Ten debates on different topics between journalists and NGOs are included. The goal is for the participants to identify the topics that need to be tackled.

BIRN Macedonia is supporting investigative journalism by opening 11 calls for investigative stories. More than 50 journalists will be awarded financial support for in-depth investigations on specific topics. The selected journalists will be provided with mentors from BIRN and partner organisations who will guide the journalists through the investigative process.

The project provides for the publishing of stories written by the selected journalists on a separate website designed for the project, but also via other media. The website will not only serve to publish the stories but also function as a database for NGOs and experts in various fields which journalists and NGO representatives can use to get the information and contacts they need.

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

Together with the KOD TV magazine, 17 investigative programmes will be created in the framework of the project.

In addition, the comprehensive databases and research on issues of wider interest will be published.

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 organisations on issues of public interest.

To build operational and efficient partnerships between CSOs and media as the base for more objective journalism and a more informed public.

Specific Objectives:

Establish partnership relationships between media and CSOs that will enable 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 CSOs have not forged any strong ties or cooperative relationships.

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 the public interest, helping their professional, fact-based, and objective reports, 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 space for the 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 the basis for making informed decisions (in their private lives, businesses and as members of society), raise public awareness on key issues and stir up debate.

Main Activities:

Identifying media and CSOs’ common issues through a series of public debates between journalists and CSO representatives.

Research on the current media coverage of the identified common issues through an in-depth monitoring of the way Macedonian media and journalists report on these issues

Creating a common language for CSOs and media through 10 workshops for CSOs.

Technical assistance to Macedonian journalists in reporting on important issues in a more professional, fact-based and objective way.

Providing journalists and CSOs with space for reporting issues of common interest and for offering citizens important information.

Sharing information and news reporting materials with other Balkan countries.

Delivered outputs:

17 debates on topics of public interest

10 workshops for cooperation between journalists and civil society organisations

11 calls for investigative stories

More than 100 CSO representatives involved in the project’s activities

2 media monitoring reports on reporting on topics of public interest

16 journalists awarded with scholarships to participate in BIRN’s Summer School for Investigative Reporting

4 complex databases developed

17 TV investigations produced

55 investigative reports supported through the calls for investigative stories

24 databases with analysis on given topics

Over 150 investigative reports published on the website prizma.mk

1 interactive web application developed

Target Groups:

Journalists and CSOs from Macedonia

Highlights:

The investigations that originated from the project have received numerous awards and acknowledgments for investigative journalism in Macedonia, such as, the Nikola Mladenov award, the Jashar Erebara award and the European Union award for investigative journalism, to name a few.

The database ‘Skopje 2014 Uncovered’ was awarded the best investigation for 2015 by the Macedonian Media Institute. The BIRN Team received the Nikola Mladenov award for investigative journalism for this investigation.

The 2016 winner of the Nikola Mladenov award was the KOD Team for the TV investigation ‘The Case of Kosta Krpach’, which was supported by the project.

‘Skopje 2014 Uncovered’ was also awarded the second prize for investigative journalism in 2015 by the EU Delegation in Macedonia, while Boris Georgievski was awarded the first prize for ‘Dossier Telecom’, published on Prizma.

BIRN journalist Vlado Apostolov won the Jashar Erebara award for investigative journalism from the Association of Journalists of Macedonia in 2016 for the investigation ‘Dossier Zdravev’.

The database on agricultural subsidies was awarded the best investigation of 2016 by the EU.

The database ‘Foreign Investments Uncovered’ is shortlisted for the Global Data Journalism Award for 2017 in the Small Newsroom category.