BIRN BiH Journalist Shortlisted for Thomson Foundation Award

An investigation into the US far-rightist Robert Rundo and his organization by Nermina Kuloglija-Zolj of BIRN BiH has been shortlisted for the Thomson Foundation’s Young Journalist Award.

By Enes Hodzic

An investigative piece into US far-rightist Thomas Rundo’s influence in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and his activities in those two countries, by Nermina Kuloglija-Zolj of BIRN BiH, has been shortlisted for the Thomson Foundation’s Young Journalist Award – dedicated to finding talented and ambitious journalists from all over the world. It is competing with 11 other stories.

BIRN BiH’s investigation into Rundo, who is considered the founder of the Rise Above Movement, R.A.M., in the United States, which says it is fighting a modern world corrupted by “the destructive cultural influences” of liberals, Jews, Muslims and non-white immigrants, shows that after having been accused of charges in the US, he headed towards Europe.

Although he has concealed his places of residence, Kuloglija-Zolj reveals that, over the past two years, he has appeared at numerous events in Serbia and participated in activities of various organizations opposing migrants, reiterating their anti-Roma and anti-Semitic stands and expressing disagreement with Serbia’s entry in the European Union and NATO.

It was determined also that he has spent a certain time in the eastern Serb-run part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At the same time, authorities in Serbia and Bosnia have not divulged information on when and how often he has crossed the borders between the two countries – one which he was officially expelled from, and the other from which, he said himself, he was banned and whose police were reportedly looking for him.

The aim of the Thomson Foundation’s Award for Young Journalists, which is presented in partnership with the UK Foreign Press Association, is to spotlight young journalists and their work and enable their voice to be heard and for them to feel the power of journalism to create significant changes. The award is open to journalists aged 30 or under, only from countries with a Gross National Income per capita of less than US$ 20,000.

After the list was announced, Kuloglija-Zolj said it was an honour to be placed among the 12 shortlisted young journalists who have worked over the past year on investigative pieces exposing inconsistencies affecting the development of their societies.

“The story about Robert Rundo, for which I was nominated, was a new experience in comparison to previous investigations,” she said, “due to the outspread of activities of the group with which he associated and, on the other hand, due to the closed nature of all those groups and the refusal of their leaders to be interviewed,” Kuloglija-Zolj said.

Now in its 10th year, the Award received a remarkable number of entries from all over the world. Besides the BIRN BiH journalist’s piece on Rundo, other nominees are from Yemen, Guatemala, Ukraine, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Malaysia.

Following the announcement of the short-listed entries, independent judges at the UK Foreign Press Association will select three finalists whose names will be revealed in October. They will be vying for the award itself, to be presented on November 28 at a gala dinner in London.

In addition to receiving the award, the three finalists and three best shortlisted journalists will have a chance to be mentored by six established journalists and former students of the Thomson Foundation.

 

 

BIRN Albania Holds Training on Data Journalism for Young Journalists

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania, BIRN Albania, on September 27-28 held a two-day training course on data-based journalism techniques and visualization for young journalists, strengthening their capacities in this field.

Sixteen young journalists and journalism students from the 12 regions of Albania took part in the BIRN training session in Tirana.

Training was offered by editor Lawrence Marzouk and investigative journalist Crina Boros, in cooperation with BIRN Albania staff. Marzouk and Boros are the two main authors of the manual “Getting Started in Data Journalism”.

Besides increasing the knowledge of the young journalists in data collection and how to use it in journalism, the course enhanced their skills in mapping, analyzing and visualizing their data, using tools and techniques.

The training was part of the project “Using Big Data and Multimedia to Boost Quality and Independent Journalism in Albania”, which is supported by the European Union and Swedish government and implemented by BIRN Albania.

The project aims to create an enabling environment for Albanian journalists to produce independent content through training, mentoring, technical and financial support, and close cooperation with civil society, so improving freedom of expression and strengthening media pluralism in Albania.

 

 

BIRN Kosovo Holds Training on Reporting Labour Rights

On September 27, BIRN Kosovo held a training module for journalists on reporting labour rights. The training brought together 20 journalists from different communities who learned more about reporting on injuries at work, workplace safety, mistreatment and breaches of employees’ rights, lack of employment contracts, annual leave and maternity leave, among others.

Training was delivered by BIRN editors Kreshnik Gashi and Visar Prebreza, who have extensive experience in investigating, reporting, training and advocating these issues.

Guest speakers included Hekuran Nikçi, Chief Inspector of the Labour Inspectorate and Agim Millaku, Deputy Chief Inspector of Safety at Work.

The Labour Inspectorate said it would increase the number of inspectors to up to 100 by the end of this year. This year alone, nine workers died at their workplaces. It noted healthy cooperation between the Kosovo Labour Inspectorate and international labour organizations.

Labour Inspectorate Chief Nikci added that there is still no database recording workers working without contracts, or if their overall rights are being violated.

Kreshnik Gashi, editor-in-chief of the anti-corruption platform Kallxo.com, spoke about the use of whistleblowers and about building cooperation with institutions that deal with workers’ rights. He stated that some 50,000 workers in Kosovo have no work contracts and that Kallxo.com has received more than 500 reports from workers claiming their rights have been violated.

Visar Prebreza, Managing Editor at BIRN Kosovo, spoke about the topics that journalists can cover regarding labour rights.

Of the 20 journalists participating, from different media, 13 were women and four from minority communities. All participants will be asked to send story pitches to BIRN. Ten will be selected to win a bursary of 500 euros to write stories related to such important topics.

BIRN Kosovo’s journalists and editors will provide editorial support to the winning journalists in the process of identifying their topic of interest, the drafting of their editorial work and the final publication of their media products. These will be published on BIRN’s flagship anti-disinformation platform, Kallxo.com., in a TV/online format.

The bursary and the one-day training module are organized in the framework of the EU-funded project, “Protecting and promoting labour rights of vulnerable groups in the labour market”, which is implemented by ATRC and BIRN Kosovo.

The project aims to improve the working conditions of vulnerable categories of employees, notably within the private sector, including their workplace health and safety, through the promotion of social dialogue between workers and duty bearers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIRN Albania Opens Call for Investigations on Healthcare

BIRN Albania launched a call for investigative stories on September 26, offering grants for three journalists to produce articles on the private and public health systems in Albania.

BIRN is offering grants for three journalists to cover stories on the healthcare system, as well as mentoring by experienced editors.

The call is part of the project ‘Promoting Accountability through Investigative Journalism’, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED.

This project aims to build bridges between journalists, experts and civil society activists so they can strengthen the fight against corruption and impunity through investigative journalism.

Three journalists will be awarded grants to cover their expenses while conducting investigations and writing stories on topics related to the private and public health systems in Albania.

The journalists will have around 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 in accordance with BIRN standards.

The call only applies to journalists from Albania and closes on October 16.

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

Click here to download the application form (in Albanian).

 

 

 

BIRN, n-ost, Hold Workshop in Ohrid on Environmental and Climate Reporting

BIRN Hub and partner organization n-ost held a workshop from September 20-23 in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on cross-border environmental and climate reporting for 18 journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Over three days, participants learned from trainers Besar Likmeta and Dragan Gmizic how to form teams and investigate environmental issues in their countries.

The trainers shared what it takes to establish a research team, publish and follow up on your investigation.

“When you investigate and publish about sensitive issues, for example on some public officials breaking the law, it’s better to have a network of journalists standing behind you,” said Likmeta, on the importance of cross-border journalism.

On the second day of the workshop, the participants learned more about climate journalism from guest lecturer Angelina Davydova. “Climate journalism is complicated, but allows for international cooperation, cross-border reporting and many training opportunities,” Davydova said. Participants then discussed how to address climate change in stories they’re interested in.

Finally, participants discussed local environmental issues related to nearby Lake Ohrid with Vladimir Trajanovski, from SOS Ohrid, a citizens’ initiative, which is active in protecting the area and its environment.

“Investigative journalists in North Macedonia helped us a lot by writing in their way about topics we pointed out to them, and had a crucial role in exposing problems,” Trajanovski said.

At the end of the workshop, participants formed cross-border research teams and will work on stories in the next two months until they gather again.

This was a first workshop organized as part of the project entitled Going Environmental, which is financed by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.

 

 

Open Call: BIRN is Seeking Data/Business Journalists

As part of its new project focusing on Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, in the Balkans, South Caucasus and Central Asia, BIRN is looking for journalists with strong competence in economic issues and experience in data editing and data journalism.

Reporters with experience in data and business journalism from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia are strongly encouraged to submit their applications no later than October 9, 2022.

Selected candidates will be working on “Spheres of Influence Uncovered”, a joint project by the Berlin-based media NGO n-ost, BIRN, the cross-Caucasus media outlet JAMnews and an online media outlet from Uzbekistan, Anhor.uz. Its primary focus is mapping and exploring FDI in the Balkans and Central Asia.

BIRN is looking both for freelancers and permanent employees of national and local media and private and state-owned outlets/public broadcasters. Experience in different media formats is preferable, and experience in business and data journalism is a must.

As the project language is English, aspiring candidates must have good oral and written proficiency in English.

During the timeline of the project, from 2022 to 2025, several training sessions and other networking activities will take place in the Balkans and Central Asia, which all participating journalists will have to attend. The first, a kick-off meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, will take place in mid-November 2022, most likely on November 11-13. Details will follow in the next few weeks.

Journalists will be researching FDI in their respective countries in a specified timeframe. Most FDI come from three key players – the EU, China and Russia, competing for influence in both regions. Information that journalists collect will form the basis for an online interactive map and a database, which is intended to shed more light on key investment projects and inform the general public in the project countries, but also beyond, about the consequences, criticisms and challenges these investments have provoked.

Selected participants also will attend a series of offline training sessions to boost their data, investigative and journalism skills: to learn how to properly fact-check a story; how to protect themselves in a digital surrounding; and learn more about specific directives and laws that China and Russia often violate. A special focus of the project is fostering cross-border cooperation and transnational and transregional networking of data and investigative journalists.

Last but not least, participants will produce a series of investigations and long-read articles, using the database and interactive map as a starting point and source of information.

Selected candidates will benefit from:

  • taking part in a long-lasting journalistic project with enough time and resources to work on complex topics
  • boosting their cross-border skills and working closely with colleagues from different regions
  • the opportunity to expand and deepen their knowledge of their economic and (geo)political context and the consequences of investment and credit projects with foreign partner countries
  • the opportunity to improve their journalistic skills with a view to investigative research, data journalism, and processing complex issues and large amounts of data
  • gaining experience in building and using an international database on international economic cooperation and investment projects
  • financial support for innovative and complex publication projects
  • integration into an international journalistic network whose members benefit from one another through shared journalistic interests and mutually complementary skills

The project will consist of a number of online and offline activities during the next three-and-a-half years, which all selected participants will have to attend, which include traveling. Below is a preliminary list that will be defined further in the next weeks and months:

  • A kick-off meeting in Tbilisi in mid-November 2022
  • December 2022: one of the two training sessions, each lasting two-and-a-half days, in Belgrade (Serbo-Croatian/English) and in Tashkent (Russian)
  • Spring 2023: Joint training for three-and-a-half days (English) in Tbilisi, on data collection
  • Autumn 2023: Joint training for three-and-a-half days (English) in Podgorica, Montenegro, for the preparation and presentation of data – storytelling, infographics, video editing, social media production.
  • Spring 2024: (a) a two-day in-depth training course in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on how to use the database for the project participants; (b) a two-and-a-half-day work meeting for the participants with an extended group of experts and (business) journalists (25 project participants + 25 others)
  • Work on the database
  • Production of country-based and cross-border long reads and investigative reports

The project, which started on September 15 and lasts until December 31, 2025, includes the following countries: Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Other partners on the project include the lead partner n-ost, from Germany, Anhor.uz, from Uzbekistan and JAMnews (headquartered in Tbilisi).

Click here to apply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEPS Quiz Commission on BIRN-Solomon Report on Greek Surveillance Systems

MEPs have submitted tough questions to the European Commission about BIRN’s and Solomon’s report on EU-funded surveillance systems deployed in reception areas in Greece.

Members of the European Parliament sent written questions to the European Commission on September 16 about the EU-funded “Centaur” and “Hyperion” surveillance systems deployed in reception areas in Greece. Their questions came after BIRN and Greek investigative outlet Solomon published a joint investigation on this on September 9.

BIRN and Solomon revealed in “Asylum Surveillance Systems Launched in Greece without Data Safeguards” that the “Centaur” and “Hyperion” systems were crafted and initially implemented with funds from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility – without prior recruitment of a Data Protection Officer at the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, a requirement under the GDPR, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, to ensure adequate oversight.

Nor were mandatory Data Protection Impact Assessments, DPIA, conducted in the design phase.

Tineke Strik, a member of the Group of the Greens, one of the eight MEPs who signed the questions to the Commission, published it yesterday on her Twitter account.

“EU funding of surveillance technology used on migrants in violation of fundamental rights must stop,” Strik said.

The MEPs asked the Commission how much money the EU spent on the two surveillance systems, from which funds this came, and how much funding has been or will be provided for similar systems.

BIRN and Solomon established that the planning of Hyperion and Centaur began in 2020. The Hyperion system monitors movement in and out of state-run asylum camps. Centaur deploys behavioral analysis algorithms and transmits CCTV and drone footage to a control room inside the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum.

Humanitarian organisations say the two surveillance systems violate asylum seekers’ fundamental rights and freedoms.

The MEPs said the Greek government was clearly unwilling or unable to conduct an “independent investigation” following allegations of non-compliant expenditure of EU funds in violation of fundamental rights.

“What is the Commission’s assessment of compliance with fundamental rights, and how is the Commission investigating this?” they asked.

“Is the Commission taking action to reject cost reimbursement or retract funding for the Centaur and Hyperion projects? What measures are being taken to prevent future EU-funding of projects in violation of fundamental rights?” they added.

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Karla Juničić

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For September, meet Karla Juničić, Engagement Editor and Coordinator at Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Karla is from Croatia and is based in the United Kingdom. She studied literature and philosophy and political sciences. She has been working as a journalist for five years, starting her career reporting on international affairs and global events.

Karla joined BIRN in October 2021, leading our Engagement Journalism programme; BIRN has developed a tool whereby media outlets can engage readers in their investigative reporting.

“The biggest challenge remains restoring faith in the media in the age when audiences are vulnerable to disinformation. Engagement journalism can be a solution because it allows audiences to be active participants in making the news,” Karla says.

BIRN participates in the Media Innovation Europe and within this context has launched a call for Audience-Engaged Journalism.

As she introduces BIRN’s new initiative, let’s meet her.

 

  1. What do you like most in your job and what is the most challenging thing?

Joining BIRN in October 2021 on a project of engagement journalism has taught me that, by listening to the audience, significant stories can be made that will have a visible impact and promote positive change in local communities. Audiences can use their power to report on issues that matter to them, and the journalist can serve as a facilitator who will factcheck their input, write about their concerns and influence other people or authorities to act upon them. People will relate easier to an issue of local concern. Often it is the local perspective or event that will draw national and even international interest.

The biggest challenge remains to restore faith in media in the age when the audience is vulnerable to disinformation. Engagement journalism can be a solution because it allows audiences to be active participants in making the news. People today want to be heard, and want to be listened to, which is obvious from a simple glance through social media. At the same time, local media need to be empowered to become independent and financially resilient, to offer trustworthy information in a complex media environment.

  1. BIRN participates in the Media Innovation Europe consortium of the International Press Institute, Thomson Foundation and Media Development Foundation. Tell us more about this initiative and its main scope

Launched on June 1, 2022, Media Innovation Europe is an exciting new initiative run by the International Press Institute, Thompson Foundation, the Media Development Foundation and BIRN. The main idea is to bring innovation to newsrooms, build stronger business models and foster collaboration among media outlets from 35 European countries; besides EU member states, this means Balkan countries, Moldova and Ukraine.

  1. Within the context of Media Innovation Europe, BIRN is launching the Audience-Engaged Journalism call. Tell us about this.

BIRN has developed a tool which enables journalists to crowdsource information on topics of citizens’ interest and engage audience in reporting. Within the project Media innovation Europe, BIRN will offer Audience-Engaged Journalism grants to expand tool usage and train journalist to implement audience engagement journalism. Grants of up to €10,000 will be offered to journalists in 10 Visegrad and Balkan countries to develop investigative in-depth stories by engaging citizens in reporting. The call, which is open until October 28, invites journalists to send in story proposals. Journalists can choose to work on collaborative cross-border stories or on their own individual story. The most interesting proposals, which demonstrate commitment to engage citizens from diverse communities and develop investigative stories will be selected by an international independent jury and receive the funding.

  1. Since December 2020, 51 media outlets from six Balkan countries have used BIRN’s Engaged Citizens Reporting ECR tool and produced investigative stories based on surveys, polls, and questionnaires. Can you select a story that made a difference and impacted the local community?

BIRN’s tool to engage citizens in reporting has been pilot-tested since 2020 and 51 media outlets from Balkans has implemented it. BIRN offered training and mentoring for journalists on how to make engagement stories within the Supporting Greater Media Independence in the Western Balkans project. Many interesting stories made an impact, so it is hard to pick just one. It was inspiring to see how some stories initiated local environmental initiatives. Citizens were desperate to report about ecological issues in each Balkan country to media outlets. They were also concerned about issues of local infrastructure, corruption, healthcare and minority rights. A story by Albanian media outlet Historia Ime about a transgender person who was refused a taxi service prompted an antidiscrimination process. The company had to issue a public apology and teach its staff about LGBTQ issues while the story itself was picked up by national and international media. Another example of impact was by SDK from Skopje, which collected evidence of unresolved court cases from ordinary people. In the end, the courts decided to look into these cases, collected by the outlet. You can check some of these stories on BIRN’s YouTube channel, “Engagement journalism in the Balkans”.

  1. How difficult or easy is it for media today to engage readers and get local communities to participate in their investigations by answering ECR’s online questionnaire? How can media achieve this type of engagement?

As mentioned before, BIRN offers outlets a tool, training and mentoring. But this is only the beginning of the process. Media outlets need to get familiar with their audiences’ interests and concerns. The tool offers this possibility. It is an initial instrument which will help journalists gather data and multimedia material, like photos or videos. The journalist’s job is to check the information and then use it to make stories. The tool offers audiences a chance to report while staying anonymous, or by giving their contact details. According to media outlets, this feature helps to bridge the gap with marginalised and underrepresented communities who have often lost faith in the media and institutions. Through investigations, many communities got acquainted with audience engagement and participated more actively in reporting.

  1. What are BIRN’s plans and goals for its Engaged Journalism program (ECR tool)?

From the technical aspect, the plan is keep adapting the tool to make it more approachable to users. The next goal is to expand the tool among journalists who will use it to engage their communities, which will be done through Media Innovation Europe project. Many media outlets have continued to use the tool even after their projects with BIRN ended. That is an important step towards the sustainability of engagement journalism in the Balkans.

 

 

 

 

BIRN Albania Holds Roundtable on Healthcare

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania on September held a roundtable on the state of healthcare in the country.

Two dozen journalists, civil society activists and experts in the field healthcare held a roundtable on healthcare in Tirana on Thursday as part of the project: “Promoting Accountability through Investigative Journalism,” financed by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED.

This project aims to build bridges between journalists, experts and civil society activists, so that they can strengthen the fight against corruption and impunity through investigative journalism.

The aim of the roundtable was to identify important issues or problems that civil society believes should be investigated in the private and public health systems in Albania.

The findings of the roundtable will guide the main areas of BIRN Albania’s upcoming open call for three journalists to produce investigative articles on the healthcare system.

During the roundtable, the participants discussed the following themes and topics: the cost of treating patients suffering from diabetes and other chronic diseases; the lack of funding for medical equipment for diabetic patients; the treatment of diabetic foot problems and amputations; and the quality of drugs in Albania’s healthcare market and poor supply of costly drugs for serious diseases.

The lack of anesthesiology doctors hospitals, medical waste treatment and contracts as well as the cost and benefits of concessionary/PPP agreements in healthcare were also debated.

The participants also discussed palliative care in Albania, vaccinations and low compensation rates of COVID-19-related ambulatory costs for patients.

 

 

BIRN Debate Calls for Faster Prosecution of Corruption in Bosnia

During the debate, ‘(Anti)Corruption in Focus’, organised by Bosnian BIRN and Transparency International in Sarajevo, members of eight political parties presented their anti-corruption strategies.

Candidates of eight political parties in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia’s larger entity, called for faster and more agile prosecution of corruption cases during a public debate held in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo.

“I ask all actors to process corruption more effectively,” said Alma Colo, from the [Bosniak] Party of Democratic Action, SDA, adding that “they haven’t done much” at state level, citing the blockade of state institutions as the reason. “It’s a captive system that works that way,” she added.

“On average, it takes about four years of pre-investigative actions before an indictment,” noted Sanela Prasovic-Gadzo from the Union for Better Future, SBB, commenting on the slow steps taken to process corruption cases.

One issue mentioned during the debate was [lack of] transparency in public spending, which weakens citizens’ trust in government.

An improvement to the law on public procurements, and the law on conflict of interest, which is not being implemented in the Federation, were mentioned as possible solutions, reducing corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Damir Masic, from the Social Democratic Party, SDP, said that 90 per cent of all problems in the country were caused by “people who are not able to explain the origin of their property”.

The second public debate organised by BIRN and TI will be held on September 19 in Banja Luka, the main city of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s other entity, where party representatives will talk about their plans for the upcoming term. General elections in Bosnia are scheduled for October 2.