BIRN Albania Opens Call for Data Driven Investigations

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania is opening a call for hard-hitting, data-driven investigative stories.

The call is part of the project called “Exposing Corruption in Albania”, which is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while doing investigations and writing stories, which draw on analysis of data sets to expose corruption, abuse of power and other forms of abuse.

The journalists will have about three months to dig deeper and research their ideas, and will also have the opportunity to work with experienced editors as mentors to guide them through the process of data-gathering, data analysis and writing to BIRN’s standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on March 11, 2018.

Click here for more information (in Albanian) about the application procedure.

Click here (in Albanian) to download application.

BIRN Holds ‘Let’s Hear Women’ Workshop in Banja Luka

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) held the last of four ‘Let’s Hear Women’ workshops on media communication for women’s rights activists on February 15 in Banja Luka.

Fifteen activists from 11 non-governmental organisations from Banja Luka, Bihac and Buzim were given training to raise the profile of their cause in mainstream media.

After theoretical advice about the importance of taking an active part in public debate and the usage of social networks in NGOs’ work, BIRN BiH staged a practical workshop. The participants gave interviews on camera, watched the results, and were given feedback and recommendations about their on-screen presence and speaking style.

In order to improve interaction with their audiences on social networks, they were introduced to the targeted boosting of Facebook posts. A set of guidelines on writing and distributing public statements was offered, as well one about sending official emails.

BIRN BiH held the four ‘Let’s Hear Women’ workshops in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar and Banja Luka, supported by the US Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A total of 46 women from 32 organisations were given training in public speaking and media communication.

Soldier Praising Mladic Faces Discipline After BIRN Report

Defence Ministry is mulling measures against Bosnian army soldier whose activities on social networks were reported by BIRN.

The Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina has launched disciplinary proceedings against a soldier named Djordje Tojcic, whose Instagram profile praised the former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic.

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in The Hague, found Mladic guilty of genocide in the town of Srebrenica and of other war crimes.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BIH, reported that police were investigating allegation about Tojcic’s activities on social networks.

It said police had reviewed the allegations about Tojcic, who on his Instagram profile published a picture of Mladic’s military cap from the 1992-5 war in Bosnia with the description: “Europe knows, but will not admit, the general fought against terrorism.”

Following the description of the image, Tojcic added the message: “Thank you for everything!!”

Bosnia’s Defence Ministry stated that measures would be imposed on Tojcic if a disciplinary proceeding confirms the allegations.

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.

Call opens for 2018 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence

The call for the 12th edition of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence (BFJE) is open and will last until March 12.

Experienced journalists from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Greece and Serbia are eligible to apply.

Each year, 10 journalists are chosen through open competition to receive funding and professional support to conduct in-depth research into a topic of regional and EU significance. For 2018, the subject is TRUTH.

Applicants selected by an independent committee to take part in the fellowship will receive a €2,000 bursary and up to another €2,000 for travel and research expenses. They will also attend international seminars and receive continuous one-to-one mentoring for their stories. Stories from the programme will be published by BIRN and by prominent regional and international media outlets. The top three stories, as selected by an independent jury, will also receive cash awards.

The Application Form and Guidelines are on the BFJE website.

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence was launched in 2007 to promote high-quality, cross-border reporting. The programme provides fellows with financial and editorial support, enabling them to travel, report and write their stories and develop their journalistic skills.

Aimed at promoting the development of a robust and responsible press, the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence has evolved into a signature programme that has helped shape journalism standards across the Balkans while boosting the careers of participating reporters.

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence is implemented by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and supported by ERSTE Foundation and Open Society Foundations.  

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, 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.

BIRN Albania Holds Workshop on Judges’ Asset Declarations

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania held a workshop in Tirana, presenting its database on the asset declarations of first-instance court judges.

The BIRN Albania database, presented on January 30, contains data from the asset declaration disclosures of 268 first-instance court judges from 2003 until 2016, and was introduced as a resource for journalists looking into stories on the hidden assets of justice officials.

About 20 mid-career journalists from local and national media participated in the workshop, which provided a guide to the data collected in the database, as well as the methods and techniques of investigative journalism used by BIRN Albania to investigate the hidden assets of Albania’s justice officials.

During the workshop, BIRN Albania also presented the findings from its report on the asset declarations of first-instance court judges, which analyses the asset declaration data and highlights suspicious transactions based on internationally-recognised red flags.

The workshop was aimed at strengthening the skills of journalists to look closely at systemic issues of illicit wealth, with a special focus on the red flags raised by the analysis of asset disclosures by first-instance court judges conducted by BIRN Albania.

BIRN Kosovo Publishes Report on Media and Rule of Law

Following a regional conference at which a regional report on the relationship between media and rule of law institutions on fighting corruption and organised crime was launched, BIRN Kosovo held a roundtable event to discuss the topic at the local level.

The roundtable, which took place on January 30, was organised as part of a mutual project with BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina and BIRN Serbia called “Exercising Freedom of Expression and Openness of State Institutions in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia”, an endeavor supported by the German Foreign Office Stability Pact.

More than 30 representatives from the NGO sector, Kosovo media groups, Kosovo Police, and the Kosovo judiciary—including representatives from Kosovo basic courts and the Kosovo Prosecution—were present. Some interviewees who contributed to the report’s study of Kosovo were also present at the roundtable.

The panel consisted of seven people: Kreshnik Gashi, a BIRN editor who also moderated the discussion; Arben Qirezi, the author of the Kosovo report; Enver Peci, the head of the Kosovo Supreme Court; Ewa Korpi, EULEX prosecutor; Besim Kelmendi, prosecutor at the Kosovo State Prosecution; Baki Kelani, spokesperson from the Kosovo Police; and Petrit Çollaku from the Kosovo Association of Journalists.

The panel discussed this central question: Who sets the agenda on reporting organised crime and corruption?

The head of the Supreme Court of Kosovo, Enver Peci, said that this court has published 2,000 verdicts, and that the Supreme Court has achieved success despite complaints about financial problems.

State prosecutor Besim Kelmendi said that cases of organised crime and corruption “are not easy to investigate”, and that the biggest difficulties are with high-level corruption cases.

“We have prosecutors that are more open and some that hesitate to communicate with media, and I can say that prosecutors should not hesitate to talk to media within the legal framework”, Kelmendi said.

EULEX prosecutor Ewa Korpi talked about the presence of fake news in reporting on organised crime and corruption.

“During this year’s local elections, I had several cases when it was reported that a certain investigation was over while I had that case on my table, investigating it. And this for sure comes from political pressure, and I have to say that in the place where I come from, Sweden, I have never seen such a case”, Korpi said.

After the report was presented, participants were given the opportunity to pose questions to the panel and engage in an interactive discussion. Representatives from media organizations and NGOs in Kosovo were pleased to have a chance to address questions on access to public documents to representatives of the panel and the judiciary.

Through this report, BIRN Kosovo aims to foster freedom of expression and transparency in relevant institutions in Kosovo and to contribute to the debate among journalists, civil society and public officials of judicial institutions on the elimination of barriers to reporting on organised crime and corruption.

Martin Dimitrov

Martin joined BIRN’s Balkan Insight team as a Bulgarian correspondent in 2018, after spending three years in the largest economic and political weekly newspaper in the country, “Capital”.

He specialises in Bulgarian domestic and foreign affairs, as well as in educational and migration topics. Martin holds an MA degree in Politics (Honours) from the University of Glasgow in the UK and has served as a Study Abroad ambassador to Hong Kong University in 2012-2013.