Serbian ‘Alternative Report’ Responds to EU Media Assessment

Six civil society organisations in Serbia, including BIRN, have prepared a comment and Alternative Report on the findings on freedom of expression and media pluralism in the European Commission’s recently-published Serbia Country Report for 2017.

The European Commission’s 2017 report on Serbia rightfully states that negative trends are restricting media freedoms in the country, but an additional emphasis on the depth of the problem in this field is needed, in particular the inadequacy of the legal framework and problems in the implementation of legislation, says the Alternative Report.

The Alternative Report says that EU monitoring of the progress of media freedoms under Chapter 23 and its ‘Freedom of Expression and Media’ section has proved to be insufficient as issues of public procurements, state aid, advertising and other areas effectively affecting media freedoms are not covered in it.

It points to not only stagnation but also “obvious deterioration of the situation with media freedoms which are very much under threat”.

Pressure and attacks on journalists and media outlets, control of media by way of financial pressure, and the dysfunctional state of the independent institutions which are supposed to enforce the laws in these fields are the principal causes of threats to media freedoms, the Alternative Report adds.

The report provides a range of recommendations both for indicators to be taken into account in future EU reports and for the Serbian authorities in charge of establishing the conditions for freedom of expression and the media in the country.

The Alternative Report was compiled by Civic Initiatives, Balkan Investigating Reporting Network – BIRN Serbia, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, PG Network, Educational Centre and Transparency Serbia.

The whole report is available here.

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

BIRN Reports Nominated for Investigative Awards in Serbia

Two BIRN reports have been nominated for this year’s Investigative awards from the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia in the categories for on-line media.

The first is The Coyote’s Trail – A Machine Gun’s Path from Serbia to Syria, produced within BIRN Hub’s project Paper Trail for Better Governance and in cooperation with OCCRP, and written by Ivan Angelovski, Jelena Cosic, Lawrence Marzouk and Maria Cheresheva.

It explores how heavy machine guns travelled from a Serbian state-owned factory to Syrian rebels, via a Bulgarian arms tycoon and a Saudi training camp.

The second is BIRN Serbia’s investigative story (part one and two) about illegal construction at the Kopaonik National Park, written by Slobodan Georgiev.

The report shows that a building under construction did not fall into line with the directions of the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia.

The report initiated a rapid-response inspection by the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure of Serbia, which ordered the investor to knock down the building and clean up the area, which lies at the highest point of Kopaonik mountain. A restaurant was built at the site despite the order, but the case is still ongoing.

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 Serbia Holds ‘Public Money’ Workshops and Training

Two evaluation workshops, for researchers and local partners in BIRN Serbia’s ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ project, were held from April 19 to April 20 at the Park Hotel in Belgrade.

From April 18 to April 20, additional training was held at the same venue for civil society organisations on the topic “Public participation in the process of defining, implementing and monitoring public interest in the field of local public information”.

Five local civil society representatives attended the training course. The main goal was to provide participants with skills and knowledge in the field of participatory processes in order to include citizens in the process of defining, implementing and monitoring public interest in the media.

Three of the five organisations will have the opportunity to continue working on the ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ project as subgrantees.

The evaluation workshops were organised in order to find out how organizations and researchers included in the project saw the processes in which they participated.

The training and the evaluation workshop for local partners were held by a consultant on the ‘Public Money for Public Interest’ project, Radmila Mikovic.

During the evaluation, seven local partners gained insight into the changes that result from the implemented project initiatives in their local communities. They also discussed the challenges they faced and ways to overcome them.

The evaluation workshop for researchers was held by Tanja Maksic and Lada Vucenovic from BIRN. During the workshop, the researchers analysed their own progress and talked about new skills and knowledge which still need to be acquired.

BIRN Editor Wins Case Against Serbian Pro-Govt Tabloid

A Belgrade court has fined the pro-government tabloid newspaper Informer for publishing untruths about BIRN in Serbia and its editor, Slobodan Georgiev.

Belgrade Appeals Court on Friday confirmed that Informer published false information and damaged the reputation of BIRN Serbia editor Slobodan Georgiev in an article published by the tabloid entitled “They Wanted to Snatch 23.2 Million Euros”.

According to the final verdict, Informer’s editor Dragan Vucicevic and its publishing company, Insajder Tim, have to pay a 100,000-dinar fine (around 830 euros).

Vucicevic was also ordered to publish the verdict in the next issue of the tabloid.

Georgiev launched the case before the Belgrade Higher Court in March 2015.

Pro-government tabloid attacks on BIRN started after the publication of an investigation into the public tender for draining the Tamnava mine, which was flooded in 2014.

The tabloid alleged that BIRN had “attacked the Serbian government for corruption and crime” on behalf of the EU because the government rejected Brussels’ request to award the Tamnava mine contract to a foreign company.

The court found Informer’s editor-in-chief responsible for publishing untruths and insults that endangered the safety of BIRN’s editor.

Georgiev said that despite the verdict, the case remains open until the editor and publisher of Informer pays the fine and published the verdict.

“The case is not closed until then,” Georgiev said.

When BIRN asked Informer’s editor-in-chief Vucicevic for a comment on the verdict, he responded by directing more insults against Georgiev.

Read more:

Serbian Govt and Press Lead Campaign against BIRN

Serbia Tabloid Targets BIRN, Other Media, as ‘Mercenaries’

Peace Women Sue Serbian Tabloid for Libel

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.

 

Download reports in English

Regional report

Bosnia and Herzegovina country report

Kosovo country report

Serbia country report

 

Download reports in Albanian

Regional report

Kosovo country report

 

Download reports in BHS

Regional report

Serbia country report

Bosnia and Herzegovina country report

Kosovo country report

Media Ownership Monitor – Serbia

Research by BIRN and the German branch of Reporters without Borders, presented in June 2017, highlights the extent to which the Serbian media space has become dominated by a handful of broadcasters and media companies.

The biggest threats to media pluralism in Serbia are the concentration of audience and political influence over the media.

BIRN and Reporters without Borders also launched the website, which contains the database with information about media ownership and audience shares.

According to the research, 62.35 per cent of the audience in Serbia is shared between four broadcasters that own seven channels.

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.