BIRN Hosts Serbian School Textbooks Debate

The complex procedure for selecting textbooks in Serbian schools must be made simpler and stricter, as currently the risk of corruption is high, a BIRN Serbia debate heard on August 31 in Belgrade.

Aleksandar Pavlovic from the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University in Belgrade pointed out that the extremely complex procedure of selecting textbooks, which should prevent corruption, gets more complicated each time a new law is adopted.

When it comes to selecting textbooks, everyone involved is dissatisfied, he argued.

“Parents, schools, ministries, private publishers, the Institute for Textbooks… all of them want better and more efficient procedure,” he said.

Irena Fiket, one of the authors of an analysis about the risk of corruption in the process of approval and publication of textbooks in Serbia explained that the complexity of the system can generate corruption.

“One of the analysis’s recommendations is to draw up a separate document in which the entire procedure for the selection and approval of textbooks, with the responsibilities of all actors, would be described in a clear and precise way,” said Fiket.

The current procedures do not solve the problem of corruption, said Eleonora Vlahovic, head of the Centre for Programme and Textbook Development.

Vlahovic added that the issue of conflict of interest is not sufficiently outlined in the Law on Textbooks.

Sinisa Jesic from the Associations of Textbook Publishers said he thinks that the procedures for selecting textbooks must be very simple, but strict.

“When the new law was adopted and when publishers were faced with the fact that not all textbooks would pass, their efforts to show textbooks in schools could have been seen in various ways and interpreted as corruption,” Jesic explained.

Milovan Suvakov, a former assistant minister at the Ministry of Education, said he doesn’t think that everyone is dissatisfied with the current system, however.

“We have actors who are pretending that they are dissatisfied because they are in a perfectly good position, which they managed to preserve in the coming period, and I am primarily referring to publishers,” explained Suvakov.

He argued that one of the biggest problems is lobbying by publishers when new documents are being adopted.

The debate was organised as part of a BIRN Serbia programme supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy.

“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.

Going Public About Corruption: Investigating Abuses of Funds and Positions

BIRN Serbia

Summary

The high level of corruption in Serbia is hampering implementation of necessary social reforms while traditional media are failing to adequately report about it, especially about corruption coming from the centers of political power.

In response to this situation, BIRN Serbia is conducting a project that contributes to anti-corruption efforts in Serbian society and reaffirming the role of media in putting limitations on corruption by exposing and opening up a wide-ranging public debate about the misuse of public funds or positions.

Donor: National Endowment for Democracy

Information Sheet

Main Objective:

To contribute to anti-corruption efforts by publicly exposing cases of corruption, abuse of public funds or posts, obstacles to access to justice which distort the application of the rule of law.

Specific Objectives:

  • The project will make an impact on current state of affairs by addressing the deficit of quality reporting about corruption, and at the same time broaden public support for investigative reporting.
  • The project will rely mostly on Internet-based resources as this is one of the forums for public debate and social interaction that is not strictly controlled by the government in power. Internet platforms are also convenient for presentation of large data sets, as BIRN investigations rely on vast research and numerous pieces of data and documents that validate the stories.
  • The project will apply a cross-sector approach, concentrating primarily on issues related to public spending and management of public resources in the judiciary system and in large state infrastructure projects. In this way the project will increase transparency and tackle some of the most opaque state-run sectors which show the least potential for reform and the largest potential for corruption.
  • The judiciary system is going through various reforms and is still largely influenced by executive powers, while national infrastructure projects are one of the most expensive endeavors to be implemented without any public insight. The project will demonstrate the practical application of data-driven journalism, which helps present complex stories based on numerous documents, pieces of data and sources to a large audience in a comprehensive way, utilizing online data visualization tools and a multimedia approach.

Main Activities:

  • journalistic production
  • creation/update of databases
  • promotion and raising awareness

Target Groups:

  • public administration
  • media, journalists, media organizations
  • the broader public

Highlights:

4 investigative stories, 2 databases

Main implementer:

BIRN Serbia

Digital Media Action for Freedom of Expression in Serbia

BIRN Serbia

Summary

The project aims to open up space for different opinions and responsible community voices. In this way it responds to the lack of functional debate and to the very centralised information system which leaves a large part of the country outside the capital in isolation.

Donor: British Embassy Belgrade

Information Sheet

Main Objective:

To increase the influence and capacities of selected online media to become a primary source of information in their communities, contributing to informed debate on government performance and accountability.

Specific Objectives:

  • The project will utilise the existing community to initiate quality debate and engagement.
  • At the same time, the project will work towards expanding online outlets’ number of followers and fostering information flow. throughout the country to provide credible information from all parts of Serbia to the public.
  • This will have positive impact not just on the Serbian public, being better informed, but also to participating portals as their profile and influence will be strengthened.

Main Activities:

  • support of online portals that have potential to become genuine information platforms and that will enable quality production on national, regional and local digital platforms.
  • cooperation of media outlets in the production and dissemination of the content with the aim of initiating informed debate about the accountability of public officials in a media environment that lacks pluralism and critical analysis.

Target Groups:

  • editors
  • journalists
  • sales managers
  • tech. support

Highlights:

10 articles, 15 videos/visualisations

Main implementer:

BIRN Serbia

Partners:

  • Portal Juzne Vesti
  • Portal Danas

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.

Four Broadcasters Dominate Serbian Media, BIRN Shows

New research by BIRN and Reporters Without Borders highlights the extent to which the Serbian media space has become dominated by a handful of boadcasters and media companies.

The biggest threats to media pluralism in Serbia are the concentration of audience and political influence over the media, according to research conducted by BIRN and the German branch of Reporters Without Borders.

BIRN and Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday also presented the website http://serbia.mom-rsf.org/rs/, 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.

These are the national broadcaster, RTS, and its regional subsidiary in Vojvodina, RTV, TV Pink, then TV Prva and B92, both owned by Antena Group, and TV Happy.

Television stations Pink and Happy are often accused of displaying pro-government bias.

A similar situation exists in print media, where 63.27 per cent of the audience is shared between the Ringier Axel Springer company, that publishes two daily tabloids, then Adria Media Group, that publishes the daily Kurir, Insajder Tim, which publishes the pro-government paper Informer, and Novosti, a company in which the state remains the largest individual shareholder.

According to BIRN Director Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, the tabloids in Serbia are growing in influence and are “flourishing without a real economic basis”.

BIRN Programme Coordinator Tanja Maksic said that the research revealed the growing discrepancy between national and local media.

“The national media are getting a bigger share of public space and finance, while the local media remain unregulated, underfunded and prone to illegal practices, untransparent ownership and dealings,” Maksic said, according to Beta news agency.

Reporters Without Borders coordinator Nafisa Hasan said the research helped reveal the weaknesses of Serbia’s media sector, which is economically drained and susceptible to political influence.

Journalist Vladimir Kostic, who worked on the Serbian media database, which contains 48 broadcasters, said that even in newspapers with a long tradition such as Politika and Vecernje Novosti not even the employees know for sure who the owner is.

He added that there are no clear data on how much money from the state budget is spent on financing media content.

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.

European Commission

DONOR
The European Commission represents the interests of the EU as a whole. It proposes new legislation to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and it ensures that EU law is correctly applied by member countries.

The Commission’s other main roles are to set objectives and priorities for action, manage and implement EU policies and the budget, enforce European law (jointly with the Court of Justice, and to represent the EU outside of Europe.

BIRN Hub

The Commission supports BIRN Hub’s Regional Reporting on Transitional Justice Issues Project.

BIRN Kosovo

The European Commission Liaison Office supports Kosovo’s ambitious reform agenda. More than 280 EU-funded projects managed by the EC Liaison Office are currently being carried out across a wide range of sectors, regions and cities in Kosovo.

The EU assistance is focused on fulfilment of the EU political criteria, including strengthening the rule of law and support for public administration reform, the communities, culture, media and youth, among many other issues.

The European Union is a donor to BIRN Kosovo’s public service monitoring programme.

BIRN Serbia

As a part of the EU-financed programme, Strengthening Media Freedom, this project intends to raise professional standards in journalism through conducting fact-based and accurate investigative reporting on various issues recognized as key generators of corruption.

BIRN Serbia is implementing a project Strengthening the role of the media in securing the rule of law within the EU-financed programme, Strengthening Media Freedom.

The programme seeks to strengthen the rule of law and freedom of expression by:

  • raising professional standards in journalism
  • supporting fact-based, accurate investigative reporting
  • improving the quality and relevance of media products

Web: Official web site

Public Money for the Public Interest – supporting a civil society initiative for the public interest

BIRN Serbia

Main Objective:

The creation of conditions that enable a free and pluralistic media to work in the public interest

Specific Objectives:

For civil society to succeed in influencing changes in media financing policies to reflect the rights and interests of citizens.

Main Activities:

A1: Capacity development for civil society
A2: Improvement of the media’s normative framework and practices
A3: Awareness-raising

Target Groups:

CSOs (app. 30), Local self-governments (10 LSGs), Decision-makers at national level (approx. 10 – Ministry of Culture and Information, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Local Self-government, Parliamentary Board for Culture and Information, MP’s etc.), Influencers (approx. 30 – professional associations, such as Lokal Press, ANEM, UNS, expert community, independent controlling institutions (Ombudsman, Commissioner for Access to Information of Public Importance, State Audit institution, Commission for Protection of Competition, Public Procurement Office, Commission for State Aid Control, etc.), EU Delegation, OSCE media department, international watchdog organizations, journalists (approx. 30)