EU Investigative Awards for 2021 Announced in Serbia

Stories on air pollution, cronyism in business and manipulation of the COVID death toll received the top prizes at an awards ceremony on November 16.

Dina Djordjevic, Sasa Dragojlo, Dragana Peco and Natalija Jovanovic were announced as the winners of this year’s EU Awards for Investigative Journalism, for stories published in 2020 in Serbia, on Tuesday November 16 at the EU info centre.

First prize for best investigative story published in 2020 in Serbia went to Dina Djordjevic for a series of articles on air pollution published by Centre for Investigative Journalism CINS.

A series of texts reveal that a Chinese company, Zidjin, which took over the former Mining and Smelting Basin in Bor, RTB, in 2018, made numerous omissions in its work due to which the lives of local people were endangered.

Dangerous substances were leaked into the air, pollution increased, and official measurements did not give a true picture of the situation for years, as institutions shifted responsibility from one to another.

“The special value of this story is the abundance of relevant sources. Through the testimonies of citizens, activists and experts, obtaining official documents, information and explanations from several sides, staying in Bor and its surroundings, the journalist certainly and skillfully presented the truth and facts,” the jury stated in its explanation.

“I hope that because of this award, we will be reminded of all topics, because many of them are still problems today,” Djordjevic emphasized in her response.

Sasa Dragojlo of BIRN and Dragana Peco of KRIK were awarded second place for Folic’s New Business with Old AcquaintancesThe jury explained that the authors had “brought a detailed breakdown of the work of a high public official”, Milutin Folic, “who has started a private business in the meantime but is inseparably linked to his previous position.

“Through a comprehensive analysis of the links between the most influential political party, senior government officials and private firms, the causes and consequences of such deals, the authors offer an illustration of ‘revolving door’ and ‘crony business,’” the jury recalled.

Dragojlo said that government officials say that the construction sector is a “development sector” but that the story of former chief urbanist of Belgrade Milutin Folic shows that not all citizens benefit from that sector, but only those people who are close to the authorities or in power.

BIRN journalist Natalija Jovanovic won third place for, Serbia Under-Reported COVID-19 Deaths and Infections, Data Showswhich revealed the manipulation of the death toll from the coronavirus during 2020.

The jury states in its explanation that, “the research on which the article is based reveals the government manipulation of one of the key issues of public interest during the pandemic – the number of deaths from COVID-19.

It added: “This very widely read article on an extremely important topic did not force the responsible authorities to offer an explanation of the difference between the official numbers and those reached by the author. That speaks of the state of democracy in Serbia.”

Jovanovic said the award was a good reminder that a year-and-a-half after its publication, Serbia still does not know who deceived the public about the number of COVID deaths, or why, adding that she would continue her search for the truth.

Paul-Henri Prese, Head of Information, Communication and Media of the EU Delegation in Serbia, said that the EU sees the role of the media as fundamental for the promotion and maintenance of democracy, and to maintaining the rule of law.

In addition to the awarded stories, the jury praised the value of the journalistic work on collecting and documenting information through the creation of databases: Koliko košta poslanik, published by CINS and Prosudi ko sudi, published by KRIK.

This year 28 applications were submitted to the competition, 26 of which fulfilled the conditions. Evaluation of the nominated stories was conducted in two phases. In the first, a jury consisting of Aleksandra Krstić, professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences, and Momir Turudić, editor of the weekly Vreme, selected 13 shortlisted stories.

These were then evaluated by a jury consisting of Tatjana Lazarevic, editor-in-chief of KosSev, Predrag Blagojevic, founder and former editor-in-chief at Juzne Vesti and Tihomir Loza, executive director of SEENPM network.

The EU Awards for Investigative Journalism in Serbia are part of an ongoing EU-funded project, entitled Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey, implemented by BIRN Hub in partnership with Thomson Media, the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, the European Broadcasting Union, Central European University, the Media Association of South-East Europe, MASE, the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro, CIN CG, the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), BIRN Albania and BIRN Serbia.

The aim is to empower and support independent journalism and investigative journalists.

BIRN Serbia, as part of the consortium, provides technical support to the project but is not involved in the selection of awarded articles.Dragana Peco, Sasa Dragojlo, Dina Djordjevic and Natalija Jovanovic

Women in Balkan Media ‘Must Speak Out’ Against Sexual Harassment

Media organisations in the Balkans should have proper regulations on sexual harassment and gender-based abuses, and media workers should speak out and support female colleagues if they are targeted, journalists told a BIRN debate.

Despite that the majority of journalists in the Western Balkans are women, they still face gender-based discrimination and abuse and often do not feel secure in speaking out due to fears of losing their jobs or reputation and not receiving the necessary support, an online panel discussion organised by BIRN was told on Thursday.

Media organisations in the Balkans should have proper codes and procedures to follow in cases of sexual harassment or other kinds of gender-based discrimination, said BIRN’s project coordinator Sofija Todorovic, who moderated the debate entitled ‘#MeToo in Journalism: When Will Balkan Journalists Speak Up?’

This would “enable that every journalist at the media outlet where she works to be aware of the steps she can follow”, said Todorovic.

Dafina Halili, contributing editor at online magazine Kosovo 2.0, spoke of the difficulty of speaking out in a small country such as Kosovo.

“Women journalists are often harassed in the newsroom in front of journalists who then speak in public and on live TV about sexual harassment [as phenomenon] but do not intervene in cases when their colleagues are being harassed [while they are present,” she said.

Halili said that Kosovo has yet to witness a #MeToo movement, as no public figures have yet spoken out about the harassment they have suffered. But she said that it is positive that young people in Kosovo are organising protests and other events for women rights.

Jelena Jovanovic, a journalist at Montenegrin news outlet Vijesti, said that a patriarchal mindset often stops women from speaking out, particularly in rural areas where even domestic violence is kept hidden.

Jovanovic explains the situation is not much different for women journalists who often are faced with gossip that they achieved where they are by sleeping their way up.

“I took the approach saying ‘yes I did it’ to shut people up and at one point it worked but it did not stop, the gossip moved to other colleagues” Jovanovic explains.

Natalija Miletic, a journalist and fixer who works between Serbia and Germany, explained that despite the #MeToo movement, the situation remains difficult.

She said that in Serbia, despite the fact that some media organisations are overwhelmingly staffed by women, “there is no woman editor-in-chief in the mainstream media”.

Zhaklin Lekatari, a journalist, sex blogger and human rights activist in Albania, said that a #MeToo movement does not exist in Albania either, and that there are two main issues women in the country face when considering speaking out about their experiences of abuse and sexual harassment – fear and lack of trust.

“We don’t have a gap in the gender representation of editors-in-chief in Albania, but the [media companies’] policies are not feminist,” Lekatari said.

The panellists agreed that the problem will not be solved by having more female editors-in-chief, but by improving management practices and editorial policies.

Lekatari advised young female journalists to seek support and solidarity – “find support, identify, link groups together and organise them”.

Urging women journalists to come forward and speak to BIRN about their stories, even anonymously, Todorevic said: “The right time to speak up is whenever the women [who have been victims of abuse or sexual harassment] are ready to speak up and if they don’t speak sooner it is everybody’s fault.”

Digital Rights Programme Grants for Journalists, Researchers and CSOs

Journalists, researchers, civil society organisations and media outlets from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Romania are invited to apply for two types of grants to create material exploring the links between digital rights violations and the decline of media freedoms.

According to numerous reports, the lack of awareness about the influence of digitalisation on professional reporting in the region is directly linked to the lack of research. Media in the region are struggling to reach their target audiences while also combating the immense growth of media operated by government-organised NGOs, smear campaigns and cyberattacks, fake news ‘factories’ and coordinated attacks on people’s reputations.

Over the past decade, journalistic techniques have evolved as well, as the fast-changing world of technology needs professional journalism that can respond to these emerging challenges without sacrificing ethics or standards.

BIRN is offering two types of grants to interested parties from the target countries to explore, expose and address digital rights challenges through different formats:

  1. Research Paper Grants
  2. Digital Rights Story Grants for Journalists and Media

Research Paper Grants

BIRN Hub is calling for proposals for three research papers from the six Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro), focused on the following issues:

1.1. Big tech companies and local media in the Balkans;

1.2. Media and their role in influencing the digital environment;

1.3. State and non-state actors regulating/influencing online media outlets.

The three research papers that are being commissioned by BIRN are intended to provide stakeholders and other interested parties with comprehensive reports that provide reliable data to help them better understand the digital environment as well as enhance their planning processes by providing them with clear insights into the effects of digital development. All the research papers should be finalised and sent to BIRN by February 15, 2022.

To find out more about the grants, application process and requirements, see the detailed explanation here.

Deadline: October 30, 2021.

All clarification requests should be submitted to Aida Ajanović: aida.ajanovic@birnnetwork.org

Digital Rights Story Grants for Journalists and Media

As technical attacks on online media, pressures on journalists and misuse of digital tools have increased, BIRN is calling on interested journalists, media organisations and media outlets to apply for story grants to shed light on the links between trends in the digital ecosystem and the problems of the media landscape in the region.

Whether you would like to write a feature, investigation, analysis or op-ed, we would be interested to see your proposal.

Financial and editorial support will be provided to individuals, teams and organisations who can explore the link between the state of media freedoms and:

  • Information security breaches;
  • Information privacy and personal data breaches;
  • Pressures due to statements and activities on the internet;
  • Manipulation and propaganda in the digital environment;
  • Holding technological intermediaries liable;
  • The blocking and filtering of content.

Story requirements

  • The story must deal with the link between the state of media freedoms and digital rights violations in the targeted region (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Romania).
  • The story must be relevant to the Balkan region.
  • We are looking for in-depth articles that provide new information or have a unique angle on the issue.
  • Each story should be around 1,500 words long.
  • Each selected story must be published within a maximum of two months of receipt of the first installment of the grant.

We are offering a comprehensive, two-month programme that includes: financial support, on-the-job mentoring and editorial sessions to produce high-quality journalism, and educational sessions focused on digital security for media.

Each journalist will receive a story-grant of 1,000 euros to support their reporting. If you are a journalist or media organisation and you have explored some of the above-mentioned challenges and their effects on the media landscape, send us your story proposal.

BIRN’s Digital Rights Programme aims to contribute to media freedom in the South-East Europe region by identifying the main types of digital rights violations and informing key stakeholders on the most pressing digital rights challenges that are jeopardising professional journalism and fact-based reporting. Find out more about such violations in BIRN’s regional database.

How to apply

Send us your story proposal using the grant application form, downloadable here:

Download the story grant form

Download the required declaration

Deadline: October 30, 2021.

Please send the completed form together with a signed declaration and your CV to applications@birnnetwork.org no later than October 30, 2021.

EU Awards Presented for Best Investigative Journalism in North Macedonia

Winning stories tackled tragic fate of Balkan lynx, pandemic profiteers and over-employment in a government ministry.

The EU Awards for Investigative Journalism in 2021 for North Macedonia were presented on Wednesday at the Aleksandar Palace Hotel in Skopje.

“Investigative journalism is of great importance because it contributes to the protection of the public interest and demands accountability from those in power,” Julian Vasalo, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation in Skopje, said at the ceremony.

“Journalism as a profession has a responsible task to inform the public in an objective manner and at the same time to express the variety of viewpoints that appear in public and of course to demands accountability,” he added.

“Brave journalists are those who investigate in a brave manner and put questions that other do not dare to ask and in that way make their societies better,” he continued.

The jury, comprising jury head Marina Kostova and jury members Tamara Chausidis and Milica Saric, had a challenge evaluating the 13 shortlisted applications.

“While deciding, we were guided by given criteria that assess the relevance of the stories, their quality, originality and professional journalistic integrity,” Kostova said.

According to Kostova, the stories of the finalists are valuable documents that will stay as a resource for further investigations in their fields, but also pointed out that all the stories are independent journalistic efforts financed mainly by donations and not mainstream media.

First prize went to the young journalists of Radio MOF, comprising Jasmina Jakimova, Bojan Sasevski, Daniel Evrosimoski and Emilija Petreska, for their investigative story, “Following the Balkan Lynx’s Footsteps – an Investigative Story in Two Sequels”, which the jury called a product of outstanding research.

“It is disappointing that even after more than a year since we published the story, the institutions did not react to the discovery we literally gave them on a plate. What kind of future do we have in mind if we continue to destroy eco-systems, to destroy the living environment of the Balkan lynx and the natural heritage we have, and, by that, destroy ourselves,” Petreska from Radio MOF said.

She used the opportunity to send another “appeal to the institutions and the public not to allow the Balkan lynx to stay only on the five denar coin, but to preserve it in the mountains”.

Second prize went to the team from Investigative Reporting Lab – Macedonia, for a series of investigations into the medical equipment business in the wake of the pandemic, “Pandemic profiteering – The Other Side of the Covid-19 Story”.

“These investigations are a product of the whole team of IRL. I hope that this story will touch those in competence and that it changes something,” Aleksandra Denkovska from IRL said, after receiving the award.

Her colleague, David Ilievski, said the biggest prize for any investigative story is for it to contribute to significant change, but added: “Unfortunately, not a single one of these investigations brought the institutions to the point of doing something.”

Third prize went to, “Only 44 work, while 1,410 people receive salary”, an investigative series about the work of a government ministry, by Kristina Ozimec and Vlatko Stojanovski.

“This is first award for Pina, a small media house that works on investigative stories. It is also important that the story was produced in cooperation with other organizations like Samo prasaj and the Institute of communication Studies and that with small resources we succeeded in producing independent journalism,” Ozimec said.

Her colleague Stojanovski added that the story was dedicated to the Ministry of Political Systems and the way it functioned.

“The ministry served as a recruiting centre for employing staff for whom professionalism was not important, only their ethnic background, and which cost the state 100 million euros. I hope that we have contributed to resolving one problem,” Stojanovski said.

The EU awards have the overall goal of celebrating and promoting the outstanding achievements of investigative journalists from the Western Balkan countries and Turkey, as well as improving the visibility of quality investigative journalism in these countries among the public.

The award for investigative journalism is awarded through the EU-funded project “Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey” in 2019, 2020, 2021 in the EU candidate and potential candidate countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey, for investigative stories published between 2018 and 2020.

 

EU Awards Three Best Investigative Stories From Albania

Three investigative stories on Tuesday were awarded the EU Award for Investigative Journalism, as the best stories from Albania in 2020.

Journalists Ljuljeta Progni, Geri Emiri, Anila Hoxha and Esmeralda Keta were selected from many colleagues as this year’s winners for their stories about abuse of workers’ rights in Albania, corruption in construction and wrongdoings behind the curtain of the pandemic.

The jury, consisting of jury head Albana Kasapi, a renowned journalist and BBC producer, Idro Seferi, a Deutsche Welle and Swiss TV correspondent, and Elira Canga, a journalist working in media development, had a hard task in choosing the three top stories.

Opening the ceremony, the director of BIRN Hub, Marija Ristic, stressed the importance of awards like this in recognizing journalists who work hard to deliver pieces of real public importance.

The head of the Political Section of the European Union Delegation in Albania, Alexis Hupin, spoke about investigative journalism as a mechanism to challenge governments and authority and make them more transparent and accountable.

Hupin, head of jury Kasapi, and jury member Seferi then presented the awards to the winners.

The first prize went to Luljeta Progni for her video, “Oil Slaves”, which focuses on the human stories of Albanian oil workers fighting for their rights and professional status.

The feature-length video investigation captures the human dimension of this struggle, which is often sidelined in the local media, drawing attention to the phenomenon through backstories and the narrative of protagonists.

“Oil Slaves” covers hunger strikes, protests and struggles of Albanian oil workers for unpaid wages and benefits and the mismanagement of the industry by the Albanian authorities through shady privatizations, which eventually led to its collapse. The report is based on interviews with workers and representatives of unions in the oil industry.

Geri Emiri took second prize for a Story of Exceptional Quality for a series of investigative stories into the 2019 earthquake in Albania and the shoddy conductions of buildings in the port of Durres, which brought about their collapse and left many victims.

The stories have a public-interest angle and include a thorough investigation done though human sources and documents, interviews and other investigative techniques into the causes behind the collapse of so many building during the quake.

The first story in the series, “Albanian Quake Probe Hones in on Sub-Standard Concrete”, reveals that below-strength concrete was used in a number of buildings that collapsed in Durres during the earthquake and killed 23 people.

The second, “Durres Leaning Towers; Residents Face off with Developers Over Construction Quality”, reveals that many apartment towers damaged in the 2019 Durres quake had substandard construction work.

The third story, “Albania’s War on ‘Fear Mongers’ Leaves Rights Activists Uneasy”, brings insight into the story of the Albanian police who investigated journalists and citizens for allegedly “spreading panic” after the quake and in the coronavirus pandemic, with a chilling effect on media and freedom of speech.

The fourth piece,”Cacophony of Structural Tests Leaves People Made Homeless by Quake in Limbo”, investigates the conflict between the residents of buildings damaged by the quake in Durres and Construction Institute and its evaluation of the severity of damages.

Finally, “Structural Interventions Turned Flats Into Death Traps” , reveals how illegal construction led to the collapse of several buddings in Durres during the quake.

Journalists Anila Hoxha and Esmeralda Keta won third prize for their story:  “Albanian Govt Accused of Manipulating Pandemic Aid Data”, a thorough investigation into the support given to poor families in the pandemic and the response of the state administration in this field.

The investigation was the result of a professional, fact-based effort by the two journalists to shed light on the phenomenon of aid abuse. Their investigation revealed that although Albania’s government took credit for putting food on the tables of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic, the figures it touted do not tell the whole story.

Platform B: Power Dynamics in Media: Why Don’t We Have More Women in Top Management Positions?

Together with our partners, BIRN is continuing its series of online and offline events aimed to amplify the voices of strong and credible individuals and organisations in the region that promote the core values of democracy, such as civic engagement, independent institutions, transparency, and rule of law.

As a primarily media organisation, we want to open space and provide a platform to discuss and reshape our alliances in light of the challenges facing democracies in South-East and Central Europe.

This effort comes at a critical time when the region is seeing several troubling trends: centralized power, reduced transparency, assaults on media, politicized judiciaries, unchecked corruption, online violations, and social polarization – all amidst heightened geopolitical tensions and deep divisions in Europe.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Platform B event series will be organised in accordance with all relevant health measures. As the situation improves, we hope to be able to host some of the events in BIRN spaces in Sarajevo and Belgrade, and elsewhere in the region.

Platform B will be an opportunity for individuals and groups to meet monthly on selected topics.

Next event: Power Dynamics in Media: Why Don’t We Have More Women in Top Management Positions?

Date: September 14, 2021 (Tuesday)
Time: 10am-12pm, CET

The majority of journalists in Balkan countries are women, but rarely do they have the chance to break the glass ceiling and take positions at a managerial level. Additionally, research conducted as a part of the regional Media for All project shows that higher representation of women in the media sector does not affect editorial policies, gender sensitivity, pay inequalities, or workers’ rights. The research instead shows that “as is the case with all sectors and industries considered feminized or dominated by women, it has contributed to the lowering of the salaries in the media sector.”

The online public debate ‘Power Dynamics in Media: Why Don’t We Have More Women in Top Management Positions?’ will be the first in a series of discussions focusing on different kinds of discrimination, as well as the abuses faced by female media professionals in the region, including sexual and digital violence against women. The aim of the debate is to shed light on this important issue and to try to pinpoint a potential for change, learning from the experience of women at leadership positions in the media.

Experts from Balkan countries will take part in this discussion:
Biljana Petkovska, Director of the Macedonia Institute for Media, North Macedonia
Marijana Bojanić, CEO at Vijesti, Montenegro
Beti Njuma, Journalist at Ora News, Albania
Ivana Pavlovic, Editor of Nova Ekonomija, Serbia

The debate will be moderated by Jeta Xharra, Country Director of BIRN office in Kosovo.

This event is organised as a part of the regional “Media for All” project.
More information and registration.

Upcoming events from September until November:
#metoo in Journalism: When Will Balkan Journalists Speak Up?
Digital Violence and Female Journalists

More information will follow soon.

EU Awards for Investigative Journalism Announced in Kosovo

The three best investigative stories in Kosovo published in 2020 were awarded in Pristina on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

Six journalists who received the awards exposed important information about illegal gambling, violation of anti-monopoly rules and fraud with college accreditations and degrees.

The awards were presented by the EU Special Representative to Kosovo, Ambassador Tomas Szuyong who noted that a free media and independent journalism is essential for any democratic society, and by Xhelal Neziri, the Head of Jury who made a summary of the jury decision and commented on the relevance of all awarded stories, noting how “investigative journalists have been a great contribution to the democracy of this country, because transparency is the foundation of a functioning democratic state”.

This year’s jury consisted of Neziri, as Head of Jury and jury members Edis Agani and Mustafa Canka.

Jeta Xharra and Visar Prebreza came in first place for the best investigative story, “Unclean energy: A Kosovar who owned the sun”, about a Kosovo businessman who stands behind six companies registered in Malta, reaping millions of euros from the sale of solar energy – in violation of anti-monopoly rules.

The BIRN investigation found out that Blerim Devolli receives incentives to produce more than half of the total solar energy used in Kosovo. The six-month investigation uncovered hidden companies, owned by a single person, through which solar energy is produced, and resulted in the country’s Anti-Corruption Agency opening an investigation based on BIRN’s inquiries.

Xharra, in her acceptance speech, emphasized the importance of those in government as well as citizens with integrity being willing to fight corruption and wrongdoing.

The second award, for a story of exceptional quality, went to Besa Kalaja and Besnik Boletini whose article “Victims of private colleges” addressed the manipulation that has been done for years and is still being done by private colleges in Kosovo.

Their research found that thousands of students have completed their studies and graduated from private colleges, but have not legally graduated because the colleges did not obtain all the right accreditation or get registered at the Ministry of Education. Due to this, many students lost their right to scholarships abroad.

Finally, a story about illegal gambling in a village of Karaçeva by Kreshnik Gashi and Adelina Ahmeti won third prize as a story of exceptional quality.

After the adoption of a law that made gambling illegal in Kosovo, KALLXO.com received information that gambling was being conducted illegally in different locations. This information revealed that a neighbourhood had been set up in the village of Karaçeva where facilities functioned as casinos.

In cooperation with the KALLXO.com team, prosecutor Rozelida Manastiri started an investigation which lasted about 14 months. The series, “Crime in Karaçeva 1&2”, involved several months of investigation resulting in the capture and arrest of more than 50 people in connection with the Karaçeva case.

The EU Award for Investigative Journalism is presented annually in six Western Balkan countries and Turkey for exceptional investigations published in the previous year.

EU Special Representative to Kosovo/ Ambassador Tomáš Szunyog
Head of Jury: Xhelal Neziri
1st place winners: Jeta Xharra and Visar Prebreza
2nd place winners: Besa Kalaja and Besnik Boletini
3rd place winners: Adelina Ahmeti and Kreshnik Gashi

Digital Rights Falter amid Political and Social Unrest

BIRN and SHARE Foundation identified more than 800 cases of digital rights violations in Southeast and Central Europe, including restrictions of freedom of speech, privacy breaches and disinformation.

In the period from August 2019 until December 2020, BIRN and the SHARE Foundation were gathering information on digital rights violations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Hungary, Romania and Serbia, and our monitoring shows violations of digital rights continued at an alarming rate in all six countries.

As all six held elections during this period – local, general and/or presidential – our findings raise serious concerns about how the digital arena has been effectively hijacked to propagate fake news, hate-fuelled conspiracy theories and misinformation in support of offline efforts to sabotage democratic processes.

Just when people needed factually-correct information and governments needed close scrutiny to ensure high standards in public life, cyberattacks were launched against state bodies and the public were overwhelmed with false information and discriminatory content designed to manipulate voting and/or stoke hatred of particular groups.

Governments, on the other hand, used the pandemic to curb freedom of expression, abused health data, while many public institutions failed to meet standards of free and open internet.

During this period, BIRN and the SHARE Foundation verified more than 800 violations of digital rights including efforts to prevent valid freedom of speech (trolling of media and general public engaged in fair reporting and comment, for example) and at the other end of the scale, efforts to overwhelm users with false information and racist/discriminatory content– usually for financial or political gain.

Most online violations we monitored were under the category of pressures because of expression and activities (375) while the fewest violations monitored were classified as holding intermediaries liable (0).

Action was taken in just 21 per cent of cases, which usually entailed – depending on the type of violation – removing articles or deleting posts and/or comments by the general public and public sector organisations. During the COVID-19 crisis, we saw a rise in arrests of citizens accused of causing panic by publishing fake news on social media. Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina were leading in this trend. Legal action, including arrests, penalties or other court action, was taken in less than 0.5 per cent of all monitored cases.

It is important to note that just as some violations included attempts to stifle free speech and frustrate freedom of expression through publishing falsehoods, not all legal actions launched to apparently hold intermediaries liable were legitimate attempts to protect freedom of speech. Some were cynical attempts against the public interest to block the publication of proven facts.

All these violations have contributed to an atmosphere dominated by fear and hatred with already vulnerable communities – such as LGBT+, groups identifying as female, migrants, particular ethnic groups – becoming subjected to worse and more frequent abuse, leaving them ever more isolated from support networks.

Those guilty of using the digital space to undermine democracy, intimidate others from publishing the truth or to spread malicious falsehoods operate with impunity, not least because there is no meaningful sense in the region of what constitutes digital rights – never mind the desire to or means to protect those rights.

Our report is the first effort on the regional level to map current challenges in the digital sphere and aims to fill in the gaps in the research. We took an interdisciplinary approach and looked at the problems from the legal, political, tech and societal angle, as an attempt to show that the problems and solutions to these violations should also be holistic and overarching. We also want to highlight these issues, as the lack of awareness of digital rights violations within society further undermines democracy, not only in times of crisis.

We don’t see the internet only as open and transparent but also see digital evolution as a set of mechanisms and tools that have great potential to serve the needs of people, and let’s not forget that internet access has proved indispensable in times of crisis such as in the COVID-19 pandemic.

We hope this report will serve not just for stock taking but be understood as a map showing what and how to further advance our rights, and also as an invitation to everyone to join forces in making our digital world healthy, too.

Marija Ristic is regional director of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. Danilo Krivokapic is director of SHARE Foundation.

Report “Digital Rights Falter amid Political and Social Unrest” can be downloaded here.

As part of our Platform B, we are also hosting a discussion with policy makers, journalists and civil society members around digital rights in the Southeast Europe. Register here.

EU Awards for 2021 Announced in Turkey

Murat Ağırel, Hale Gönültaş, Volkan Nakiboğlu and Fevzi Kızılkoyun are the winners of this year’s EU Awards for Investigative Journalism, given for stories published in 2020 in Turkey.

This year’s winning investigations exposed a variety of malpractices in Turkey,  ranging from the mishandling of public funds to the infamous ties between a drug baron and a chief of police.

A total of 53 applicants submitted their stories uncovering wrongdoings and shedding light on issues of importance to the public.

Apart from the three stories that were given awards, two other stories received special recognition from the juries.

At the awards ceremony on June 29, the head of EU Delegation in Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, highlighted the importance of investigative journalism and of ensuring the safety of reporters.

“In the wake of the attack against an AFP photo-journalist, I state that according to EU values, violence against journalists cannot be tolerated. We are in need of journalism in this age of global disinformation,” Meyer-Landrut told the ceremony in Ankara.

The first prize went to journalist Murat Ağırel, whose series of stories featured how public funds are being misspent in a variety of areas such as health and education. Articles unearthed unlawful purchases and expenses as well as possible money-laundering.

Journalists Hale Gönültaş and Volkan Nakiboğlu got second prize for their stories Iranian Border: Between Bullets and Wolves, which exposed the inhumane conditions that immigrants face on the Iranian border as well as the cruelty of human traffickers.

Third prize was awarded to Fevzi Kızılkoyun for the story Prestigious Baron: Official Car Issued to Turkish Escobar,  which explained how a drug trafficker violated the curfew during the pandemic with the help of a chief of police.

“Today we are here to honour our colleagues who practise this profession by doing it justice. Journalism requires dedication, first and foremost to the public, then to the truth, knowledge, and objectivity,” said Yusuf Kanli, vice-president of the Association of Journalists.

Special recognition jury prizes went to the Hazal Ocak for the story Leak in the Bosphorus – Garden Rented for Only 258 Liras a Month, which showed how public spaces are being taken by top government officials. Ocak’s stories have been banned on the grounds that she has been “interfering with the fight against coronavirus” and she is facing 14 years in prison at an ongoing trial.

Another special recognition prize was awarded to İsa Örken for the story 14 Days as a Seasonal Worker, about the hardship faced by seasonal workers, their poor working conditions and how they try to get by on low salaries. Örken went undercover and worked alongside seasonal workers, documenting their working conditions.

The EU Award for Investigative Journalism is presented annually in six Western Balkan countries and Turkey for exceptional investigations published in the previous year.

Head of EU Delegation in Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut
President of the Association of Journalists, Nazmi Bilgin
Vice President of the Association of Journalist & Head of the Jury, Yusuf Kanli
First place prize: Murat Ağırel
Second place prize (co-authors): Hale Gönültaş and Volkan Nakiboğlu
Third place prize: Fevzi Kızılkoyun
Hazal Ocak
İsa Örken

Europeanization of Kosovo’s Environmental Agenda team holds Renewable Energy Policy in Kosovo conference

On June 28, BIRN Kosovo, in partnership with CEE Bankwatch, the ERA Group and TV Mreža, held the Renewable Energy Policy in Kosovo conference, which was organised as part of Green Energy Days 2021.

The conference was moderated by Executive Director of BIRN Kosovo Jeta Xharra and featured a host of guest speakers including: Pippa Gallop, an Energy Advisor on South East Europe for CEE Bankwatch, Jeta Statovci MP, the First Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Economy, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and Trade, Ymer Fejzullahu, Head of the Department for Tariffs and Fees at the Energy Regulatory Office, Besiana Berisha, a senior official at the Division of Renewable Energy, Efficiency and Cogeneration at the Energy Department of the Ministry of Economy, Dajana Berisha, a co-founder of the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development (KOSID), and Trim Tërnava, the CEO of Jaha Solar Panel and a renewable energy consultant.

Topics addressed at the conference mostly focused on current renewable energy policy in Kosovo, as well as the country’s slow progress towards developing a greener energy sector. The Panelists provided insights on the impact of the energy sector both on the environment and on the well-being of the citizens of Kosovo, as well as recommendations on future policies that will help integrate renewably sourced energy into Kosovo’s energy supply.

At the end of the panel discussion, the audience was given the opportunity to address their concerns by asking questions and participating in the discussion.

Photo: BIRN

This conference was organized as part of Green Energy Days 2021, an event hosted as part of the Europeanization of Kosovo’s Environmental Agenda project, which is funded by the European Union Office in Kosovo. Green Energy Days will take place until 7 July, 2021.


Tim na projektu Evropeizacija kosovske agende za zaštitu životne sredine“ održava lokalnu konferenciju o Politici obnovljivih izvora energije na Kosovu”

Dana 28. juna, BIRN Kosovo, je u partnerstvu sa CEE Bankwatch, ERA Group i TV Mrežom održao lokalnu konferenciju o  „Politici obnovljivih izvora energije na Kosovu”, kao deo „Dana zelene energije 2021”, aktivnosti realizovane u sklopu projekta koji finansira EU pod nazivom „Evropeizacija kosovske agende za zaštitu životne sredine“.

Photo: BIRN

Konferenciju je vodila Jeta Džara – izvršna direktorka BIRN Kosovo, a ona je okupila paneliste Pippa Gallop – savetnica za energetiku za jugoistočnu Evropu CEE Bankwatch, Jeta Statovci – poslanica i prva predsedavajuća Odbora za privredu, preduzetništvo i trgovinu, Imer Fejzulahu – šef Odeljenja za tarife i naknade pri Regulatornoj kancelariji za energetiku, Besiana Beriša – viša službenica Odseka za obnovljive izvore energije, energetsku efikasnost i koproizvodnju pri Odeljenju za energetiku Ministarstva privrede, Dajana Beriša – suosnivačica Konzorcijuma građanskog društva za održivi razvoj (KOSID) i, Trim Trnava – izvršni direktor Jaha Solar Panel i konsultant za pitanja obnovljivih izvora energije.

Teme obuhvaćene konferencijom uglavnom su bile usredsređene na aktuelnu politiku obnovljivih izvora energije na Kosovu i spor napredak zemlje u razvoju zelene energije. Pored toga, panelisti su se osvrnuli na uticaj energetskog sektora na životnu sredinu i blagostanje građana Kosova, kao i na preporuke o budućim politikama koje će pomoći da se obnovljivi izvori energije uvrste u kosovski energetski miks. Na kraju panel diskusije, učesnicima je data prilika da iznesu svoje zabrinutosti postavljanjem pitanja i učešćem u diskusiji.

Photo: BIRN

Ova konferencije organizovana je kao deo „Dana zelene energije 2021”, pod okriljem projekta „Evropeizacija kosovske agende za zaštitu životne sredine“. „Dani zelene energije 2021″ traju do 7. jula 2021.


U mbajt konferenca lokale “Politikat e Energjisё sё Ripёrtёritshme nё Kosovё

Mё 28 qershor, “BIRN Kosova”, nё partneritet me “CEE Bankwatch”, “ERA Group” dhe “TV Mrezha”, mbajtën konferencёn lokale “Politikat e Energjisё sё Ripёrtrishme nё Kosovё”.

Në konferencën e moderuar nga Jeta Xharra – drejtoreshё e “BIRN Kosova”, ishin të pranishëm edhe Pippa Gallop – këshilltare e Energjisë në Ballkanin Perëndimor nga “CEE Bankwatch”, Jeta Statovci – deputete në Kuvendin e Kosovës dhe zëvëndëskryetare e parë e Komisionit për Ekonomi, Industri, Ndërmarrësi dhe Tregti, Ymer Fejzullahu – udhëheqës i Departamentit për Tarifa dhe Çmime në Zyrën e Rregullatorit për Energji, Besiana Berisha – zyrtare e lartë nga Departamenti i Energjisë, Divizioni për Burime të Ripërtëritshme të Energjisë, Efiçiencës dhe Bashkëprodhimit, Dajana Berisha – bashkëthemeluese e ‘Konzorciumit për Zhvillim të Qëndrueshëm në Kosovë’ (KOSID) dhe, Trim Tërnava – CEO në ‘Jaha Solar Panel’ dhe konsulent i energjisë së ripërtëritshme.

Photo: BIRN

Temat e trajtuara në konferencën e diskutimit ishin kryesisht të fokusuara në politikat e energjisë së ripërtëritshme në Kosovë dhe zhvillimin e ngadaltë të energjisë së gjelbër. Gjithashtu, panelistët ofruan njohuritë e tyre në ndikimin e sektorit të energjisë në mjedis dhe në mirëqenien e qytetarëve të Kosovës, si dhe rekomandime për politikat e ardhshme, të cilat do të ndihmojnë në integrimin e burimeve të ripërtëritshme në energjinë e Kosovës. Në fund të diskutimit, në mes të panelistëve, të pranishmit në audience paten rastin t’i adresojnë shqetësimet e tyre duke bërë pyetje dhe duke marrë pjesë në diskutim.

Kjo konferencë u organizua si pjesë e aktivitetit “Ditët e Energjisë së Gjelbër 2021”, aktivitet brenda projektit të financuar nga Zyra e Bashkimit Evropian në Kosovë, “Evropianizimi i Agjendës Mjedisore të Kosovës”. “Ditët e Energjisë së Gjelbër”, do shtrijnë aktivitetin deri më 7 korrik 2021.

Photo: BIRN