BIRN Kosovo Holds a Workshop for the Referral Mechanism Members of the Municipality of Hani i Elezit

On February 28, 2024, BIRN Kosovo held a workshop on strategic communication during the implementation of the activities of the National Strategy for Preventing and Countering Terrorism. The workshop was organised in Hani i Elezit for the members of the referral mechanism of the local municipality.

The workshop addressed the principles of strategic communication, including media functioning and other platforms of strategic communication thus ensuring that the members of the referral mechanism have a better understanding of the importance of different platforms on the P/VE, R&R, and other forms of extremism.

A total of 11 participants, 5 of them women, gathered at this workshop which started with a presentation of each member of the referral mechanism including an overview of the work of this mechanism.

The trainer for this workshop Kreshnik Gashi – Managing Editor of Kallxo.com, presented and thoroughly explained means of strategic communication regarding their work on P/VE, R&R, and other forms of extremism. With an emphasis on fake news and disinformation, Gashi mentioned that the members must pay attention to the usage of social media, considering the fact of the widespread usage of all social media platforms in Kosovo. Other elements such as direct and indirect forms of propaganda were illustrated with examples, while the members of the mechanism were instructed to be assured of the audience that they address and find correct ways of defining and addressing a specific group.

During the workshop, the attendees were very engaged and expressed an interest in sharing their firsthand experiences as members of the referral mechanism of the Municipality of Hani i Elezit. They were quite forthcoming in sharing their sources of information and providing tangible examples of times when they had fallen prey to fake news and disinformation.

This workshop was part of the ‘Resilient Community Programme’ founded by GCERF.

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Azem Kurtic

Azem Kurtic joined BIRN in 2022 as a correspondent from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He started his career in the youth newsroom at Bosnia’s public broadcaster, BHRT, where he covered a range of topics for different radio shows over the course of three years.

Even though he has a degree in physiotherapy, the first time he said “Good evening” in front of a microphone at the local radio station, he realized that journalism was the profession for him.

Since then, and during his work at BIRN, he has had the chance to “nerd over political affairs in Bosnia”, as it is a “really complicated but really interesting system to follow”.

Let’s meet him!

  1. You have a degree in physiotherapy but have been working in media since high school. Tell us something more about your professional path and this switch.

I was lucky enough to get in touch with journalism while in high school and one thing led to another. Journalism and its formats allow me to be creative with a purpose, which I truly liked since the beginning. I was also lucky to have amazing mentors, experienced journalists and producers who were patient enough to transfer their knowledge and experience in different media and different media formats. I must say that I’m a child of the radio and had my beginnings behind the microphone, and still feel the same thrill whenever I sit in front of the mike.

I would love to say that there was some amazing story behind the switch, but just the idea of being outside and among people was much more attractive than the idea of spending 40 years working in a hospital. In hospital, the days quickly become the same, you know you will have six to eight patients each day, some more challenging than the others. In journalism, the day is still young, even in the evening.

  1. During your career, you’ve worked as a producer of festivals and events, documentary films and series, as well as on live TV and radio programmes. How did this experience help your journalistic work?

The first thing I’m very thankful for is an extensive network of contacts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and abroad, which is the result of producing so many different formats. I’m using many of them in my daily journalism. The other thing is the “can do” attitude that I had to develop, and grow with it in the end, as sometimes the requests I had to fulfil in order to finish the shooting asked for a lot of research, calls and sometimes creativity. In the process, I also learned what I call “phone-charm” and how to actually speak to people, even when there is a language barrier. And the third is the knowledge of different formats, which I often combine in my stories.

  1. What turning point made you decide to become a journalist?

It was definitely my first time in front of the microphone at the local radio station. I’m still chasing the thrill of that first “good evening” I said. My decision was confirmed during the February 2014 mass protest in Tuzla, where I was living at the time. The calm protest became violent on the third or fourth day, when the demonstrators set fire to cantonal government buildings in Tuzla, Zenica and Sarajevo, including the Presidency building in the capital. I loved the thrill of covering it. After that, for some time I had this crazy idea of becoming a war reporter, but luckily I realised I was not made for that.

  1. As a Bosnia correspondent, you report daily for Balkan Insight and the Balkan Transitional Justice programme. What was the most challenging thing in your work since joining the BIRN team in 2022?

First thing that comes to my mind is the August 2023 livestreamed femicide, which I had to cover for Balkan Insight. I saw the video of that execution, as it quickly spread. After finishing the news, I remember telling Dusica, our editor, that I needed to go for a walk. It wasn’t the first time that something had an emotional impact on me, but I had never seen something so brutal before.

Second thing that comes to my mind is the 2022 Srebrenica Peace March, which I volunteered to cover without thinking much. I casually woke up one day and went on a 100-kilometre three-day walk, without any physical preparation. As a cherry on top, it was raining two days in a row, and on the second morning, after walking 33 kilometres completely wet, I was woken up at 4:30am because my tent was flooded. I think I never felt more miserable in my entire life.

  1. You cover politics, the rule of law and human rights, transitional justice, corruption and organized crime. What story/stories did you work on during this time that you’re most proud of?

I’m happy to have the chance to nerd over political affairs in Bosnia, as it is a complicated but really interesting system to follow. Probably the most challenging analysis I had to do was one on state-owned property in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a hot topic for years in the country. I spent days trying to understand the laws, regulations, agreements and procedures, and ended up mapping almost all state-owned property in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

My favourite part of the job is the chance to document stories of different people and I truly enjoy writing features. I’m really proud of the Women Picturing Bosnia’s War series, featuring female war photographers telling the stories behind their photos.

  1. What’s your message to some young person thriving to become a journalist in a region?

Buckle up; you’re up for a fun ride!

BIRN Invites Journalists to join IPI World Congress and Media Innovation Festival in Sarajevo

May 2024 congress will gather leaders and media professionals to explore new solutions, foster understanding, and critically assess the media’s role in navigating contemporary crises.

The 2024 IPI World Congress and Media Innovation Festival is set to gather prominent journalists, editors, and publishers worldwide in Sarajevo from May 22 to 24.

Themed “Navigating Crises: Journalism at a Turning Point,” this event offers a platform for media professionals, thought leaders, and innovators to search for new solutions, foster understanding, and critically assess the media’s role in addressing contemporary crises. Balkan Investigative Reporting network, BIRN, is partnering with the International Press Institute, IPI, at this three-day event.

Having originated amidst global turmoil, the IPI global network, now spanning over 70 years, remains dedicated to safeguarding press freedom and upholding independent journalism as crucial in tackling common challenges.

As the world grapples with multifaceted crises, including climate change, economic inequality, geopolitical conflicts, humanitarian strife, misinformation and intense polarization, the IPI World Congress remains a vital forum for dialogue. Participants will explore the media’s role in navigating these crises and discuss a path forward, recognising the power of a free and critical press.

The festival brings together media innovators, local news outlets, and startups to share stories, network, and learn from each other’s successes and missteps. Discussions will focus on the importance of innovation, the indispensability of local news in times of crisis, revolutions in business models, and more.

The IPI World Congress also includes the IPI Award Ceremony, an annual event honouring journalists and media organisations for their contributions to press freedom, often in the face of personal risk.

Registration for the 2024 IPI World Congress and Media Innovation Festival is now open, via the following link.

For more information about the programme visit the event page.

Media Innovation Europe (MIE) is a two-year program, funded by the European Union and led by the International Press Institute (IPI), along with Thomson Media (TM) in Berlin, the Media Development Foundation (MDF) in Kyiv, and BIRN in Sarajevo. The primary objective is to provide European newsrooms with the necessary resources, time, space, and expertise to navigate the challenges they face, reach new audiences, and secure financial sustainability.

 As part of this program, BIRN has taken the lead in managing the Audience-Engaged Journalism Grants, aimed at empowering media outlets to engage their audiences in investigative reporting.

BIRN Kosovo Holds Training for the Members of the Municipal Assembly in Vitia

On February 27, 2024, BIRN Kosovo held a one-day training to present the strategic vision of the National Strategy for Preventing and Countering Terrorism for the Municipal Assembly of Vitia, in Viti.

The training addressed the matter of the P/VE, R&R, and other forms of extremism. Also, it addressed the strategic vision of the strategy on the local level with an emphasis on the Municipal Assembly’s role in countering violent extremism and terrorism.

A total of 10 participants, 5 of them women, gathered for this training, which started with introducing the objectives of the National Strategy for Preventing and Countering Terrorism 2023-2028. The focus was on countering religious extremism and far-right extremism on the strategic vision of this strategy presented by Kreshnik Gashi – A member of the Working Group on drafting the National Strategy for Preventing and Countering Terrorism. Gashi presented his experience in contributing to the finalization of these documents and explained the objectives of this strategy.

Mensur Hoti – Director of the Department for Public Safety in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, focused his attention on the role of the local authorities in fulfilling the objectives of the Strategy. An important part of this presentation was oriented on discussing the current situation on preventing radicalism and violent extremism that leads to terrorism.

The participants were very active in sharing their experiences and addressing the current situation in their municipality. Among other issues discussed, they also highlighted the fact that they did not receive the National Strategy for Preventing and Countering Terrorism 2023-2028. As a result of them being more informed during this training session, they mentioned that besides the Strategy they will ask the Mayor to receive the Action Plan and agreed to be more vocal in their municipal assembly regarding P/VE, R&R, and other forms of extremism.

This training was held as part of the ‘Resilient Community Programme’ founded by GCERF.

BIRN Crew Attacked While Covering Church-Building Initiative in Kosovo

A man was questioned by police after he verbally attacked and insulted a crew from BIRN Kosovo while they were reporting on a controversial initiative to build a Catholic church in the village of Kline e Eperme/Gornja Klina.

Journalist Adelina Ahmeti and camera operator Jetmir Hoxha from BIRN Kosovo’s Kallxo website were attacked on Monday by a resident of Kline e Eperme/Gornja Klina, a village in the Skenderaj/Srbica municipality, where a proposal to build a Catholic church has encountered resistance from some locals.

The police said on Thursday that the “suspect was interviewed and after a case was initiated by a decision from the prosecutor, he was released in the usual way”.

The BIRN crew visited the village to report on the proposal to build the church, initiated by a local man called Ndreke Kelmendi. Kelmendi insists that a church had previously existed at the same location, but his proposal has sparked negative reactions from several villagers who claim that the land is privately owned.

Moments after the BIRN crew went to Kelmendi’s house to interview him about the church issue, his brother Mustafe Hasani confronted them for several minutes, using insulting language and making threats.

“I swear to God that you will be in trouble,” Hasani repeatedly threatened.

The BIRN crew reported the incident to the police.

The Association of Journalists of Kosovo, AJK condemned the incident, saying that “any attack against journalists is an attack on free speech and democracy”.

“The AJK is concerned about the threats toward its Kallxo.com colleagues and calls on the police to address the case as a priority,” it said.

“We condemn any form of threats against journalists, camera operators and media workers and call on the relevant institutions to secure justice for all threats and attacks on media,” it added.

BIRN Kosovo Holds Fact-Checking Journalism Course

BIRN Kosovo held a one-day training course on fact-checking journalism for young and mid-career journalists in Pristina on February 26, 2024.

The course addressed the importance of fact-checking in daily reporting, reporting on inter-ethnic issues, propaganda, misinformation and the handling of disinformation and fake news on social media.

A total of 13 journalists, 11 of them women, gathered for the training course which started with a keynote speech from BIRN project manager Arita Suhodolli.

The first part of the training was delivered by Kreshnik Gashi, managing editor at KALLXO.com, who used illustrations to explain how information can be altered while spreading across different media.

Gashi also presented the findings from BIRN’s report ‘The Story of Our Lies’, about the influence of China and Russia on disinformation in Kosovo. He discussed with participants the difference between disinformation, fake news, deep fakes and other forms of fake news production.

Gashi closed his part of the course with some practical work on analysing articles by using fact-checking techniques to improve the participants’ critical thinking and taught them various techniques for verifying news.

Dorentina Kastrati, an editor at BIRN, spoke about local initiatives addressing disinformation and misinformation. She started her lecture by presenting BIRN Kosovo’s initiative to create the Coalition Against Disinformation. She also emphasised the importance of inter-ethnic groups of journalists engaging in fact-checking and ended her lecture with a summary of how to write fact-checking activity proposals.

The training concluded with a lecture on handling disinformation and fake news on social media networks by the another guest speaker, Faik Ispahiu, the executive director of Internews Kosova.

Ispahiu talked about how KALLXO.com’s Krypometer (Truth-o-meter) become the first fact-checking tool in Kosovo to be granted a licence by the International Fact-Checking Network. He also explained the mechanisms Facebook and other social media companies use for fact-checking news.

The training course was supported by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK.

BIRN Macedonia Holds Third Training for Young Journalists

The third in a year-long series of training courses for a dozen young journalists took place from February 23-25 in Berovo, North Macedonia.

Building on the previous training sessions, the third course, which took place in Berovo, aimed to help a dozen young journalists begin work on stories that will be published by BIRN Macedonia’s publication, Prizma.

During the three-day course, BIRN journalists explained to the participants where and how to find stories, how big stories can be uncovered from simple checks, how to develop a story idea into a reporting plan, where to look for data and how to identify sources.

In a simulation of a newsroom editorial meeting, trainees pitched stories in teams and were assigned senior journalists as mentors to develop stories. Together with the participants, BIRN’s team discussed the topics, assessed their viability and gave advice about how the stories could be executed. Five topics were chosen as a result of the stories that were pitched.

During the training, the participants were shown how to look for and obtain data in dozen different open-source databases that BIRN’s journalists regularly use in researching and writing their own stories. With the mentors’ guidance, the participants then applied these databases to their chosen topics.

The participants were also given an interview simulation, as well as a presentation on storytelling.

By the end of the training course, each team presented the work they had done on their stories together with their mentors over the course of the weekend and gave an estimated timeline by which they would be finished. The stories should be published in the coming months.

Fellowship 2024: Voices – Call for Applications Open

We are awarding 10 fellowships to journalists from Central and South-Eastern Europe who have an idea for a story that needs dedicated on-the-ground reporting, in-depth research, generous funding and sustained editorial attention to do it justice.

Applications are solicited under this year’s theme, Voices. Successful applicants will be selected by an independent committee to take part in our annual programme for professional development, culminating in the production of a compelling long-form story to be published by BIRN, its media partners and/or the media outlets from the region.

Our output takes the form of features, analysis and investigations, presented in depth for a global audience. We emphasise strong storytelling and rigorous, on-the-ground reporting – qualities traditionally associated with the best magazine journalism.

The Fellowship provides:

  • a bursary of €3,000
  • the chance to improve your reporting skills by working in close collaboration with world-class editors
  • ongoing mentoring and support from BIRN’s leading regional journalistic network, present in 14 countries of the Central and SEE region
  • the opportunity to participate in an introductory seminar in Vienna, May 20th – 24th, focused on reporting and storytelling techniques,
  • the chance to win additional awards worth between 1.000 and 3.000 euros for the best three stories
  • worldwide publication of reports in local languages and English through our network of media partners
  • membership of the Fellowship alumni network, designed to support networking between fellows who have participated in the programme since 2007
  • This year’s call is open until March 25th. Please send us your proposal using the official application form.
  • To maximize your chances of a successful application read more about the programme including the tips from our editors.

Here is what our editor, Neil Arun, has to say about this year’s topic.

Before journalism, the printing press and the first clay tablets where our ancestors practised their writing, there was the spoken word. Every year, the Fellowship asks applicants to consider a theme. This year’s theme, Voices, goes back to the oldest form of communication.

It also appeals to the instinct that, we believe, drives the best long-form journalism: the desire to get away from the desk and hit the road in search of those sources, those voices, that can add something meaningful to a bigger conversation.

On social media today, it can seem as if everyone has a voice. However, not all voices are heard, or worth hearing. What are the voices in your society that have been drowned out by the noise? What do we miss when we don’t listen? Whose are the voices worth seeking out at this moment? How does power speak, and what does it leave unsaid? And how will your Fellowship story send out a signal that can cut through the noise?

Our themes are always broad, because we want to attract the broadest range of applications. If you haven’t got a pitch in mind for the Fellowship, we hope the theme will inspire you. If you already have a story that you would like to report, please take a few minutes to tease out a link with the theme in your application. Don’t worry if the link seems a bit of a stretch – we are looking to gauge your ability to argue, rather than your fidelity to the theme. And we will always prioritise a good pitch that is only loosely linked to the theme over a weak pitch that fits the theme perfectly. Good luck.

About the Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence

The Fellowship has been providing journalists with editorial guidance and funding to pursue agenda-setting stories since 2007. Aimed at promoting the development of a robust and responsible press, the programme has helped shape journalistic standards across the region while boosting the careers of participating reporters.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and Erste Foundation set up the Fellowship with a view to encouraging in-depth cross-border reporting in south-eastern Europe. In 2020, the programme was expanded to include four central European countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

To read our stories and find out more about the Fellowship please visit the Fellowship official page.

Igor Vujcic

Based in Belgrade, Igor started working for BIRN in 2020.

He has a diverse skill set in illustration, graphic design, animation and video production. With a background in design from high school and the Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade, Igor has honed his creative abilities to bring ideas to life through visual storytelling.

Balkan Insight’s biggest investigative and long-form stories have his visual signature. His style has formed Balkan Insight’s unique visual identity.

Igor prefers to illustrate investigative stories, as they are more personal and include a human factor, unlike global news stories.

Beyond his professional pursuits, Igor finds joy in family life as a dedicated father and husband. In his free time, he indulges in passions for custom keyboards, Studio Ghibli movies and music, adding depth and inspiration to his creative endeavours. With a blend of artistic talent and personal interests, Igor continues to explore new horizons and share his unique perspective with the world.

Danijela Pejatovic

Danijela joined BIRN Hub in December 2023 as a Social Media Manager.

She is based in BIRN Hub’s Belgrade office and is responsible for developing, quality control, and implementing program-related and overall BIRN visibility actions, using social media channels.

Danijela is an experienced Communications Specialist with a strong background in nonprofit and social organisations and foundations.

With over 14 years of experience, she is skilled in content writing, copywriting, social media management, digital marketing, and event management.

Thanks to various courses and education, along with experience, she has a high level of knowledge and experience of working on different digital tools, platforms and programs.

Previously, she mostly worked in the nonprofit sector in communication and digital marketing, and in social media positions. Some of her favourite experiences were at Foundation SOS Children’s Villages Serbia and Foundation Catalyst Balkans.

Danijela graduated in Journalism and Communications from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade.

In addition to her formal education, she finished the Alternative Gender Studies Program at the Center for Gender Studies in Belgrade and attended various courses and education related to PR, marketing, communications and digital marketing.

Along with Serbian, she speaks English.