Matt Robinson is a journalist, translator and former Reuters Bureau Chief for the Balkans and Special Correspondent for Central and Eastern Europe.
Ten pilot projects from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia have been launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, all aimed at challenging polarising, inflammatory and radicalising narratives.
Among the ten pilot projects launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, the Provjeri.me team from Sarajevo have used a creative approach to create a ‘fake news’-busting game to combat misinformation and propaganda and to prevent the sharing of potentially dangerous content among young people in the Western Balkans.
“Nobody wants to be lied to and everyone wants to have fun” is the simple premise on which the team behind Provjeri.Me based their prototype.
Their online game ‘Faketective’ is an educational and entertaining tool which will help people to learn how to recognise and verify problematic content online. The player is put in the shoes of a young journalist who has several tasks before she gets a coveted job with a respected new media outlet.
In order to win the Faketective game, players must successfully debunk incidences of ‘fake news’. The project aims to improve the digital media literacy skills of young people in the Western Balkans.
The Ordinary Heroes project, also from Sarajevo, utilises the video content of oral histories of wartime inter-ethnic rescues to create short videos that look at the present day inter-ethnic tensions through the prism of these positive stories from the past, tackling the prevailing divisive narrative based on glorification or vilification of war-time political and military leaders.
The Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC)’s Ordinary Heroes video project changes the focus away from negative stories about wartime political and military leaders, focusing on positive stories of ordinary people who showed bravery.
Its videos target an audience that includes football fans or groups on social networks that have ties to nationalism.
Humans of the Balkans is a crowd-sourced platform for photos and stories of ordinary people from all over the region, to celebrate its diversity, beauty and potential.
The basic idea is very simple: building a common online space for ordinary people and their stories. While focusing on collecting and sharing positive and inspiring life stories, it also encourages contributors to identify problems and issues they see around them and suggest how they can be solved, so that injustices and grievances can be addressed.
Portal Kultura connects young bloggers and theatre enthusiasts who produce culture and arts focused content.
Portal Kultura’s tag line, which translates as “a generational scream against the reality in which we are growing up”, is both the inspiration for the project’s name (KRIK [Scream]) and captures its philosophy and strategy – giving young people a space to express themselves as bloggers, writers, creators and critics, encouraging them to think independently, embrace alternative views and speak out against divisions and hate in their communities.
The portal is run by a group of volunteers from Banja Luka who in the recent months organised workshops in Drvar, Kostajnica, Derventa and Kotor Varos as well as contributed to the organization of Applause Fest, a theatre festival in Banja Luka showcasing performances from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the portal’s own words: “We are bringing you stories from different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. How did our peers overcome hate speech? How have they resolved existing problems? How did they act preventatively in their local communities? You can find out all this by following our portal. We bring you stories that will not leave you indifferent. Stories that will make you think.”
Story2Tell, a project by the Skopje-based NEXUS Civil Concept, uses the power of human stories to shed light on the experience of one man who regrets his journey to Syria to participate in the war, and engages in positive messaging amid the prevalence of vulgar and violent content online in Macedonia. Story2Tell collected information about reactions to its video pilot project and found that the video drew strong emotional responses from viewers.
Pristina-based project Women of Resilience is an initiative determined to tip the balance in the public discourse and policy discussion about foreign fighters, currently dominated by male voices and experiences.
The Institute for Dialogue and Nondiscrimination strategically and sensitively brings women’s stories into the mix, focusing on empowering those left behind and those who followed their husbands to the conflict zone, giving them a platform to share their experiences to prevent future departures and build these women’s resilience to extremist propaganda and recruitment.
The Jasmine project, in collaboration with Gazeta Mendimi and the Women’s Center for Development and Culture Albania from Elbasan, works to train a new generation of journalists in writing about violent extremism to improve both the quantity and the quality of articles written on the subject in the Albanian language.
CVEinfo.AL is another initiative supported by Resonant Voices, which has developed a web portal and a virtual library of existing resources related to the fight against violent extremism in the Albanian language, as well as news, updates and information about ongoing and new initiatives in this field, to support Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism practitioners.
In Macedonia, statements that provoke hate among religious groups and issues between the religious groups themselves have been a longstanding issue. The Partnership for Actions on Cohabitation and Tolerance, or PACT, tackles the use and misuse of religion, religious messages and religious communities head-on by bringing together 20 future leaders from both communities to get to know one another.
No Hate Speech seeks to educate citizens in Presevo about the harmful effects of use of hateful propaganda and to promote the use of respectful and tolerant terms, targeting those who produce and distribute fake news, misinformation, or hate speech on the internet.
Resonant Voices Initiative is a joint programme run by CIJA US, BIRN and the Propulsion Fund to challenge extremist narratives in public discourse throughout the Western Balkans – in particular those disseminated online.
The programme aims to equip critical voices in the target countries with the skills, know-how and resources to counter radicalisation, the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters and violent extremists, and other dangerous trends. It empowers a diverse group of civil society actors – activists, journalists, bloggers, educators and other online (and offline) influencers – to become resonant voices, able to counter violent extremism, to push back against extremist propaganda and to increase and amplify alternative, positive messages.
Following a roundtable discussion between civil society organsations and journalists about corruption and transparency in the healthcare sectors, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania (BIRN Albania) is opening a call for investigative stories.
The call is part of the project called ‘Transparency on Healthcare through data and investigative journalism’, a project supported by the United States Development Agency, USAID.
Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while doing investigations and writing stories on a wide range of healthcare topics which emerged from the roundtable discussion between journalists and civil society on May 3 in Tirana.
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 writing to BIRN’s standards.
The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on June 3, 2018.
Click here for more information (in Albanian) about the application procedure.
Click here (in Albanian) to download application.
BIRN’s journalistic work produced in 2017 some very tangible social and political changes, both within the region and internationally, showing that non-profit media can influence the work of public institutions and authorities when applying high professional standard to their work.
Please click on the pinned locations on the map to read about the impact of BIRN’s reporting.
Monitoring reports produced by BIRN and articles published in its regional publication Balkan Insight continue to be quoted in international reports about media, human rights and politics in the region.
Freedom House’s annual country reports for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Moldova, published in Nations in Transit 2018 under the title ‘Confronting Illiberalism’ in April this year, quote Balkan Insight articles on transitional justice, inter-ethnic relations, politics, the economy and the situation in the media
The Media Sustainability Index for 2017 published by IREX in May, in its Europe and Eurasia section, mentions BIRN when describing the media situation in the region, specifically media freedom, lawsuits against media organisations and journalists, as well as BIRN’s reporting on corruption and its training programmes.
The US State Department report for 2017 on human rights in Albania, published in April, quotes BIRN Albania’s research about media censorship in the country. The report also mentions that in 2017 a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists from Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors.
In the Media Landscape – Serbia report, published by the European Journalism Centre in May, the results of the Media Ownership Monitor carried out by BIRN and Reporters without Borders Germany, as well as articles related to media published by Balkan Insight, are quoted throughout the.
Three journalists from Montenegrin media have been selected to carry out multimedia journalistic investigations on the subjects of environment and sustainable development, which are covered by the Chapter 27 in the EU negotiation process.
Irena Rasovic, a journalist from public broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro, Matija Otasevic, a journalist from TV Vijesti, and Mustafa Canka, a freelance journalist from Ulcinj, were selected at the training course held in Podgorica after presenting their investigation proposals.
The investigative stories that were selected have a regional character and will deal with issues affecting not only the environment in Montenegro, but in neighboring countries as well.
A mixed domestic and international team will work with the selected journalists. All the stories will be published in the local and English language and will have multimedia component.
A call for investigative stories with an environmental angle was launched in March as part of a project to strengthen investigative reporting in Montenegro, which is being implemented by BIRN, CIN Montenegro and Monitor magazine. The project was funded by the EU Delegation in Podgorica.
Along with selected stories, journalists from CIN Montenegro and Monitor will publish a number of other investigations related to the environment and sustainable development within the project Media Investigations: Stop to READ (Regional Environmental Acts of Devastation).
Through intensive training, international mentoring and an investigative approach, this project aims to increase the capacities of CIN Montenegro, Monitor, and other media outlets whose journalists are taking part.
The project started on March 1 and will continue for 14 months.
Fake news merchants, corrupt officials and political thugs are just a few of the targets in the crosshairs of journalists chosen for the 2018 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.
In its 12th year, the fellowship began with a four-day seminar in Vienna that brought together 10 new fellows from across the region, all committed to tackling this year’s theme: TRUTH.
Chosen from around 100 applications, they come from Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Greece.
Supported by ERSTE Foundation and Open Society Foundations and run in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, the fellowship aims to promote the highest standards of journalism. It gives mid-career reporters the funding and editorial support to pursue investigative stories that cut across borders.
Over the next four months, fellows will carry out in-depth reporting as they try to untangle the webs of power, influence and money that envelope their proposed stories.
In Vienna, they received practical tips from BFJE Editor Timothy Large on how to research, report and write long-form articles for international impact.
They then hammered out story ideas and reporting strategies during intensive editorial sessions with Timothy Large, Balkan Insight Editor Gordana Andric, BIRN Regional Network Director Marija Ristic and BFJE Programme Manager Dragana Obradovic.
The seminar also included a visit to the newsroom of Austrian daily Der Standard, a media partner of the programme, and a session on cross-border collaborative journalism by Brigitte Alfter, Managing Editor of Journalismfund.eu.
Barbara Trionfri, Executive Director of the International Press Institute, spoke on global press freedom and trends in media development while Gordana Andric from Balkan Insight shared pointers on multimedia storytelling.
This year’s fellows are Arlis Alikaj (Albania), Iona Burtea (Romania), Claudia Ciobanu (Romania), Alexander Clapp (Greece), Ivana Jeremic (Serbia), Lorelei Mihala (Romania), Andrea Milat (Croatia), Andjela Milivojevic (Serbia), Leonida Molliqai (Kosovo) and Dusica Pavlovic (Montenegro).
BIRN Bosnia’s own experience of lawsuits used as a tool to silence the media features in a new report on defamation cases against journalists.
The number of defamation lawsuits against journalists is rising in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although many of them get withdrawn, the online magazine about the media of the Media Center Sarajevo writes.
BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina recently experienced this, after it published an article about the public procurement process for buying an official car for a state ministry.
As the texts notes, referring to media freedom reports by Reporters Without Borders, local politicians often try to intimidate journalists by suing them for defamation, so deterring them from pursuing their work. Data from Bosnia’s journalists’ association and experiences from newsrooms also show that numerous lawsuits are used as a form of pressure.
Mirna Buljugic, director of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, recalled what happened in the case of her organization.
“The minister did not want to talk to us, but directed us to his secretary, but after we published the article, he called to talk. We asked whether there was something problematic in the article and he said, ‘No’. Twenty days later, there was a lawsuit against BIRN, the journalist and editor who worked on the story.
“During the course of the lawsuit, when we were supposed to answer the lawsuit, they went further, suggesting making a deal with the minister never to write about him again and never to write about that ministry, either, or about public procurement, which we refused immediately, after which the whole process continued.
“In the last week before we sent the answer, the minister gave up the lawsuit. This then went into BH Journalists’ statistics about politicians who influence the media and create pressures this way through defamation lawsuits.”
Professionalism remains the best protection when tackling political pressures through lawsuits, she and other media professionals conclude.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania on Thursday May 3rd held a workshop on corruption, mismanagement and abuse of office in the health sector in Albania.
About 25 journalists, civil society activists, representatives of the office of the Ombudsman and the High State Auditing Office in Albania attended.
The workshop was part of “Transparency on Healthcare through data and investigative journalism”, a project supported by the United States Development Agency, USAID.
The goal of the workshop aimed to identify topics for the upcoming call of BIRN Albania for investigative grants in the health sector, but also sought to build bridges of cooperation between civil society organizations, journalists and independent institutions.
During the course of the workshop, representatives of the High State Auditing Office and the Ombudsman presented the methodologies they use to monitor public institutions and together with civil society representatives discussed ways in which the media can cooperate in fighting corruption in the health sector.
The workshop will be followed by a call for investigative stories that will be published on BIRN Albania’s award winning website, Reporter.al.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania has published two new manuals, which aim to give civil society and activists the necessary knowledge to advocate their causes in the media.
The first guide focuses on advocacy through the traditional and social media, while the second guide deals specifically with the various uses of photography as a medium for advocacy.
The drafting and publication of the two manuals was supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy, BTD and the Swedish International Development Agency, SIDA.
Both manuals are part of BIRN Albania’s efforts to bridge the gap between civil society and the media in order to strengthen the fight against corruption and impunity, reinforce the rule of law and promote the respect of human rights and minorities.
They come on the heels of dozens of workshop between journalists and civil society organized over the last four years by BIRN Albania, which have guided the focus themes for investigative stories in its award winning publication Reporter.al.
The manuals cover an array of topics crucial to media advocacy, which range from making the difference from advocacy to propaganda, to tips and tools to produce a viral photo and how to distribute it.
These publications not only aim to strengthen the presence of civil society in media but also enrich the diversity of voices and opinions that comment on issues important to society in local media outlets.
To download a copy of the manual on “Advocacy through traditional and social media: A guideline for CSOs and activists” in Albanian, click here.
To download a copy of the manual on “Photography and Advocacy: A practical guideline” in Albanian, click here.