BIRN Publishes 2022 Report on Handling of Workers’ Rights Cases in Kosovo by Courts and Labour Inspectorate

On January 24, BIRN held a conference for the launch of a report titled “Handling of Workers’ Rights Cases by the Labour Inspectorate and the Judiciary”.

In the current situation, amid ongoing accidents occurring at workplaces, there is plenty of room for improving and advancing workplace policies, it was agreed.

The 2022 report found that almost one person dies in the workplace in Kosovo every month on average, while only 1.5 per cent of businesses have fulfilled their obligation to assess the risks at the workplace.

Although there are no exact statistics on the number of unregistered workers in Kosovo, Labour Inspectorate data show that during 2021 alone, 1,459 employees were found to be working without employment contracts while 433 employees were not declared at the Tax Administration of Kosovo, TAK.

The findings of the report were discussed with two panels, including different actors from public institutions.

On the first panel, the main subject was the handling of workers’ rights by the Labour Inspectorate.

This panel was moderated by Jeta Xharra, executive director at BIRN Kosovo. Panelists included the Chief Labour Inspector Hekuran Nikçi, the General Director of the Tax Administration of Kosovo, Ilir Murtezaj, and Kastriot Berisha, legal officer at BIRN.

Chief Inspector Nikçi claimed that in June 2022, when he became the Chief Inspector, he found the office in a chaotic situation. Statistics show that 15 people died at work 2022, all in construction. Since 2016, 81 workplace deaths have been recorded.

After scrutiny of this report, it was concluded that Kosovo lacks a database of inspections about conditions at workplaces.

Nikçi said Kosovo still lacks inspectors in this field, despite progress that has been made since he assumed office.

This affects the implementation of a database, when there are not enough inspectors and no chance to inspect all businesses throughout the country in order to detect violations at workplaces.

The General Director of the Tax Administration of Kosovo, TAK, Ilir Murtezaj, said fines have been issued to many businesses that did not declare that their workers were working without contracts.

However, Kastriot Berisha, legal officer of BIRN, said cooperation between the Tax Administration and the Labour Inspectorate lacks coordination.

The second panel was moderated by Kreshnik Gashi, managing editor at BIRN. This panel included Jehona Grantolli, member of the Prosecution Council of Kosovo and Fahret Velija, Chairman of the Commission for the Administration of Courts and member of the Kosovo Judicial Council.

Gashi questioned the responsibility of the Kosovo judiciary, saying many businesses clearly manipulate and neglect the mandatory norms of workplace conditions.

The report noted that out of 27 court judgments analyzed regarding cases of deaths and injuries at the workplace, only four resulted in prison sentences. Of these four, two were prison sentences and the other two conditional imprisonments.

This activity was implemented as part of the project “Protecting and Promoting Labour Rights of Vulnerable Groups in the Labour Market”, funded by the European Office in Kosovo and implemented by BIRN Kosovo in partnership with Advocacy Training and Resource Center ATRC.

The overall report can be found at these links:

Report in English language

Report in Albanian language

Report in Serbian language

 

BIRN Kosovo Holds Workshop on Reintegrating Returnees from War Zones

BIRN Kosovo held a regional workshop on January 23 in Peja/Pec on reinforcing the role of Centres for Social Welfare and Municipal Directorates of Education, Emergency and Security, Health and Mental Health, along with other relevant institutions, in strengthening the process of reintegration and resocialisation of returnees from Middle Eastern conflict zones.

The workshop was delivered by Kreshnik Gashi, editor-in-chief at BIRN Kosovo’s Kallxo.com website, and focused on the state’s vision for preventing radicalism and violent extremism that leads to terrorism.

Eleven representatives from the various institutions participated in the workshop.

The workshop was the sixth held by BIRN Kosovo as part of the Resilient Community Programme, which is funded by the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, GCERF.

 

BIRN Kosovo Hosts Debate on Dangers of Online Disinformation Among School Pupils

Over 20 Albanian, Serbian and Roma high school students from the Kosovo municipalities of Gracanica and Lipjan took part in a debate organized by BIRN Kosovo and Gracanica Online on “Increasing security in social media platforms as a mechanism for protection against fake news”, held in Gracanica.

Activity kicked off with presentation of a report, “(Un)Safe Internet” and continued with the presentation and discussion of the panel.

This was composed of Kreshnik Gashi, member of the Kosovo Press Council and correspondent of Reporters without Borders for Kosovo and managing editor of KALLXO.com; Rajko Jovanovic, from the Gracanica-based the NGO Communication for Social Development; Visar Prebreza, Managing Editor at KALLXO.com; and Ivan Miljkovic, journalist with Riznica portal.

The panelists raised the issue of the danger, especially to young people, of privacy, identity and integrity violations on the Internet. The debate concluded that dubious media use inaccurate and disinformation to disorientate the public and draw attention from the truth, inciting hatred and compromising the security of individuals, groups, communities regardless of ethnic, religious or cultural affiliations by creating a false image of the same.

The panel recommended increased caution when using social networks and emphasized the legal consequences that the individuals may face through different types of interaction on these social media platforms.

The youngsters participating in this debate expressed their experience with social networks, denouncing negative phenomena in the environments where they interact but also with the aim of promoting positive initiatives.

This activity was carried out within the UNMIK-supported project “Addressing disinformation through fact-checking journalism”.

 

 

Open Call for Public Relations Consultant

Balkan Investigative Reporting Regional Network – BIRN Hub is opening a call for the following short-term consultancy position: Public Relations Consultant – with at least 5 years of relevant experience;

We are offering the possibility to complement the work of a highly interactive and dynamic team at one of the biggest media NGO networks in the region.  Due to our Network’s fast and constant growth and the implementation of various projects, we are searching for a Public Relations specialist.

Terms:  Short-term consultancy

Start Date: As soon as possible

Deadline to Apply: January 31, 2023

Location: Remote

Position – Public Relations Consultant

Major duties and responsibilities:

  • Work on formulation of PR plans and strategies in close cooperation with the team
  • Build a detailed communication plan and schedule
  • Define the roles, responsibilities and process for creating, editing, sending and receiving communication
  • Identify and prioritize communication channels used to communicate with each internal and external group
  • Advise on content and social media activities
  • Ensure all communication is cohesive with the organisation’s image
  • Measure PR action(s) impacts and report to management

Key requirements:

  • Relevant university degree and training
  • Minimum 5 years of experience in public relations or corporate communications
  • Experience in non-governmental sector and media PR highly desirable
  • Experience with diverse social media platforms
  • Excellent communication, presentation and leadership skills
  • Deadline-oriented with great follow-up and reporting skills
  • Well organised, able to prioritise, goal-oriented, multi-tasker
  • Ability to collect and analyse information, with the aim of providing recommendations, and guidance
  • Ability to be proactive and take the initiative
  • Excellent written and oral skills in English and at least one of the regional languages

APPLICATION PROCEDURE:

Please submit a detailed CV and cover letter with contacts for at least two (2) relevant reference points, with subject Public Relations Specialist, not later than January 31, 2023, to our regional operations unit at [email protected]. Only the shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

BIRN Hub is a nongovernmental organisation, a part of the Regional BIRN Network, working in the field of media development, promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values in Southern and Eastern Europe. BIRN has local organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. The Network is editorially also present in Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. More information at www.birn.eu.com.

BIRN encourages applicants of both genders and offers an equal chance to all interested persons without any prejudice based on any grounds.

 

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Eleni Stamatoukou

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For
December, meet Eleni Stamatoukou, BIRN’s Communication Manager and Journalist at Balkan Insight.

Eleni Stamatouku, 41, has been working for BIRN’s flagship Balkan Insight for the last two years as our correspondent from Greece as well as Communications Manager in BIRN.

Based in Athens, she has a BA in Balkan Studies and MA in Social Anthropology and wanted to be a journalist since she was a young child. For her, journalism allows people to “live” different lives by meeting people from all cultures.

She always tries to include the human side in all the topics she reports on, so it is even easier for the readers to relate. She has led BIRN’s investigation into the harassment of Greek women journalists in their workplaces. The investigation covered incidents from 1993 to 2021, revealing that female journalists in Greece do not feel safe reporting incidents.

1. Why did you decide to become a journalist?

 When we were in the first grade, our teacher asked us to write down what we wanted to become when we grew up. I still have this composition. I wrote that I wanted to be a teacher or a journalist. I chose to be a journalist because I like listening to and writing stories. Through journalism, you can “live” different lives and meet extraordinary people and cultures. That’s the good part of our profession.

2.  Do you have a quote, it can be directly about journalism or not, that you keep in mind during your work? If yes, share it with us and explain why you picked it.

After finishing reporting (reading, interviews, transcriptions, meetings, etc.), the best part is the writing process, as I listen to music to concentrate and write. In her book “Girl in a band: A Memoir” Kim Gordon, who formed Sonic Youth together with Thurston Moore, narrates a conversation she had with her friend, an artist called Dan, who confesses to her that he wishes he could make art that was like a Kinks’ song. Gordon questions herself, saying: “A lot of artists listen to music while they work, and many think, ‘Why can’t I make art that looks as intense as the sounds I’m hearing’? I don’t have an answer.” I wish my journalism could be as intense as the sounds of my favourite songs – a difficult task.

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

I am very proud to be part of BIRN’s family and have the chance to collaborate with many people from different backgrounds and cultures. The thing that I like is that I am always learning something new. The most challenging thing in my everyday work is the deadlines and the obstacles, when companies, state bodies, and people do not answer my questions.

4. On what kind of stories do you prefer to work and why? Which is your favoirite story you have written for Balkan Insight so far?

I like to write primarily human stories because I feel like that’s the only way readers can feel some connection and relate. Even in the most difficult investigations, I always try to get people talking first.

One of my favorite investigations is “No Refund: How Greece Made Passengers Pay to KeepAirlines Alive,” which is about consumers in Greece and abroad who were waiting to get their money back from three Greek airlines (Aegean Airlines, Sky Express, Ellinair) when their flights were canceled due to the pandemic. The Greek government supported a voucher-only compensation scheme at the expense of consumers, and contrary to European law. I should note here that the Greek media refused to publish this research at first. Aegean Airlines is one of the largest companies in Greece and has a big influence.

5. Recently you published an investigation into the #metoo movement in Greek media. Would you like to tell us more about this story and its importance?

Due to the lack of a media watchdog in Greece, BIRN investigated the harassment of Greek female journalists in their workplaces.

The BIRN investigation disclosed that female journalists are often afraid to report such abuse and harassment and ignore the procedures. At the same time, most media in Greece do not even have the means to handle such cases.

BIRN’s research covered incidents over almost 30 years, from 1993 to 2021, documented through interviews with current and former media industry workers

The investigation was republished in Greek by the EFSYN newspaper and presented by several Greek media, such as Lifo, In.gr, ERT3, Proto Thema, Marie Claire, TVXS, Ladylike.gr, Popaganda.gr etc.

BIRN’s investigation helped open up a long-needed debate on the abuse and harassment of female journalists in the Greek media.

6. What were the main obstacles during this investigation?

 I want to thank my editor-in-chief Dusica Tomovic and all my editors and colleagues at Balkan Insight. Without their support, I could not have done this research. The biggest difficulty was how to approach the female victims who agreed to meet in person. I was very anxious how to make the interviewees feel safe so that they would trust me and share their stories with me. Then there were various other small “difficulties” such as the reactions of the Greek media – some of which were exaggerated – when we asked to see if they have procedures where victims can seek help and report their abuse / harassment. A second investigation could certainly be written about the reactions of the Greek media. I hope our report helps in some way to slowly change things in the Greek press.

7.  What is your advice to aspiring journalists who want to work as correspondents in our region?

 Read as much as you can (books, investigations, etc.,) write as much as you can, work hard, travel, be open, ask questions, don’t give up, and dream.

 

BIRN Kosovo publishes report on justice system’s handling of corruption cases in 2022

BIRN Kosovo has published a report, “The Weary Fight Against Endemic Corruption in 2022”, based on its direct monitoring of the justice system. The report is focused on the performance of the Kosovo justice system in dealing with corruption cases.

BIRN monitored corruption cases from January 1, 2022, onwards using a specific methodology designed for the compilation of this report. The methodology included directly monitoring court hearings and analysing all decisions relating to the 10 corruption cases that are part of the report.

Monitoring was carried out at all of Kosovo’s Basic Courts and at the Court of Appeals. This process included monitoring more than 50 court hearings dealing with corruption cases and analysing the associated documents, from those documenting the investigative phase to those detailing the final decisions, in all instances of justice in the country.

The report therefore reflects the progress of each case from the initial investigation stage onwards, comprising assessment of the quality and impact of the in-depth investigation at the judicial appeals stage. Special attention is paid to the duration of court proceedings and the quality of decisions taken by the courts in these cases, which have been set as a priority for Kosovo’s justice system.

The report also includes individual summary analyses of all monitored cases, chronologically detailing the key moments in the handling of each case.

At the end of the report, BIRN also includes recommendations to justice institutions, such as the Kosovo Judicial Council, KJC, the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council, KPC, and the Academy of Justice, as well as the heads of the courts and prosecution offices.

BIRN’s main recommendations are that the KJC, in cooperation with the Academy of Justice, organise supplementary training for judges and prosecutors who handle corruption cases, with a particular focus on the nature of corruption, the importance of publicising judgments, sentencing policies, drafting judgments and conducting financial investigations.

BIRN also recommends that corruption cases be prioritised by judges and that the KJC and heads of Kosovo’s courts should take measures against judges responsible for excessively prolonging these cases.

Click here for the report on Albanian and English.

This activity is implemented as part of the “Media Strengthening the Rule of Law in Kosovo” project, supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation through the Italian embassy in Pristina.

BIRN Kosovo publishes report on justice system’s handling of terrorism cases in 2022

BIRN Kosovo has published a report titled “The Justice System’s Handling of Cases with Terrorism Charges in 2022” based on its direct monitoring of the justice system. The report is focused on the performance of Kosovo’s justice system in dealing with terrorism cases.

BIRN monitored terrorism cases from January 1, 2022, onwards using a specific methodology designed for the compilation of this report. The methodology included directly monitoring court hearings and analysing all decisions relating to the 12 terrorism cases that are part of the report.

Monitoring took place at the Special Department of the Basic Court in Prishtina, as the only competent court for handling such cases. The process included monitoring more than 20 court hearings and analysing other documents dealing with terrorism cases, from those documenting the investigative phase to those detailing the final decisions, in all instances of justice.

The report therefore reflects the progress of each case from the initial investigation stage onwards, including an assessment of the quality and impact of the in-depth investigation at the judicial appeals stage. Special attention is paid to the duration of court proceedings and the quality of decisions taken by the courts in these cases, which have been set as a priority for Kosovo’s justice system.

The report also includes individual summary analyses of all monitored cases, chronologically detailing the key moments in the handling of each case.

At the end of the report, BIRN included recommendations to justice institutions, such as the Kosovo Judicial Council, KJC, the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council, KPC, and the Academy of Justice, as well as the heads of the courts and prosecution offices.

The main recommendations are that the KJC, in cooperation with the Academy of Justice, organise supplementary training for judges and prosecutors who handle terrorism cases, with a particular focus on the nature of terrorism, the importance of publicising judgments, sentencing policies, drafting judgments, financial investigation, the identification of recruiters and money laundering.

BIRN also recommends that terrorism cases be prioritised by judges and that the KJC and heads of courts should take measures against judges responsible for excessively prolonging these cases.

Click here for the report on Albanian and English.

This activity is implemented as part of the “Media Strengthening the Rule of Law in Kosovo” project, supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation through the Italian embassy in Prishti

BIRN Albania Holds Five Regional Roundtables on Environment

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania over the last four weeks held a series of regional roundtables for civil society activists and journalists in order to discuss and brainstorm its coverage of environmental issues.

The roundtables were part of the project: “Building Resilience through Environmental Journalism”, which is co-financed by the Democracy Commission Small Grants Program of the US Embassy in Tirana, and implemented by BIRN in cooperation with local journalists.

Five roundtables took place between November 24 and December 15 in Elbasan, Durres, Shkodra, Vlora and the Albanian capital Tirana. The roundtables, in which 70 civil society activists and journalists took part, aimed to introduce local actors to BIRN Albania’s project, which supports journalists to report on environmental issues.

The project aims to strengthen the cooperation between NGOs, activists and local journalists in Albania to research, monitor and publish in cooperation with media articles on environmental violations, with the aim of increasing awareness, public pressure and advocacy for the most efficient use of natural resources and sustainable development in the country

During the roundtables, BIRN Albania’s representatives gave a short overview of the project while inviting participants to debate possible topics for in-depth data-driven stories on the environment.

The activists and civil society representatives present at the meetings proposed important topics that journalists could and should investigate, while calling for more coverage of the causes they advocate for and their activities from the media.

Underlining the importance of close cooperation between civil society and media, journalists explained that the basic tenets of news value and editorial considerations often conditioned their coverage, urging civil society experts to speak with a louder voice on issues that are critical to the community.

Both parties recognized the need to strengthen cooperation between journalists and activists in the coverage of green issues in order to identify periodically the main problems in the field of the environment and the most efficient use of natural resources.

 

BIRN Trains 30 Journalists in Citizen Engagement Reporting

Thirty journalists from ten media outlets from Balkan and Visegrad countries learned how to engage their audiences and readers more deeply and use the B-engaged tool developed by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

BIRN held a four-day online training course in audience-engaged for 30 journalists from Balkan and Visegrad countries from November 5-8.

Thirty journalists from ten media outlets were given training in engagement journalism at the workshop held by Ariana Tobin, engagement editor of ProPublica, and BIRN’s experienced trainers and mentors Aleksandra Bogdani, Ana Petruseva, Gyula Csak and Katarina Zrinjski.

Participants were media outlets chosen to receive BIRN’s Audience Engaged Journalism Grants to create individual or collaborative cross-border engagement stories.

The media outlets selected for funding were Kujto Foundation (Albania), Atlatszo (Hungary), Live V Lice (North Macedonia), Suboticke (Serbia), Romea (Czech Republic), Kosovo 2.0 (Kosovo), Roditelji.me (Montenegro), UPS media (Bosnia and Herzegovina); whilst Oko Info (Serbia) and Kanal Vis (North Macedonia) received a grant to do a collaborative story.

Within the programme, the selected media outlets had an opportunity to participate in training and mentoring in order to bring innovation to their newsrooms, engage communities and develop investigative stories by using the B-engaged tool – a digital tool designed and developed by BIRN for the purpose of audience engagement.

The training course, which combined technical skills and editorial knowledge was the first step in the programme to help media outlets develop their engagement stories.

Tobin suggested some basic questions for journalists embarking on engagement stories: “Who is the community most impacted? Who are the stakeholders? How do we reach them? Who might be able to help us? What is the content plan? How might we keep them engaged and report back their progress?” she said.

With the guidance of the trainers, the participants learned how to create callouts to their audiences and read results using the B-engaged tool.

Audiences represent a valuable source of information for journalists and the B-engaged tool enables them to include the public in their reporting and crowdsource data for story investigations, the trainers explained.

The trainers said that audience research, the design and promotion of callouts for involvement, the verification of data and the creation of engaging final products are other important steps to consider in engagement journalism.

Engagement journalism is about building trust and two-way communication between the journalist and the communities, they said.

“Be compassionate to people you are approaching and continue doing some quality journalism,” Tobin concluded.

Audience Engaged Journalism Grants are part of the Media Innovation Europe (MIE) project, funded by the European Commission. The programme is run by the International Press Institute, the Thomson Foundation, the Media Development Foundation and BIRN and is intended to empower media outlets as they navigate the digital transition, giving them journalistic tools and skills in diverse products and business structures in order to reach audiences and bring sustainability.

 

 

BIRN Presents ‘China in the Balkans’ Map to Berlin Conference

BIRN’s interactive map with more than 130 Chinese-linked projects in six Southeast European countries was presented to the China in the World Conference in Berlin, Germany.

China in the Balkans, an interactive map and a corresponding database produced by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, was shown to an international audience at the China in the World conference in Berlin on Tuesday.

Organised by Doublethink Lab, an NGO from Taiwan, the conference brings together various stakeholders researching China’s global influence as well as its disinformation strategies. Apart from debates and panels, new additions to the China Index will be made.

The index researches and analyses Chinese influence in 46 countries across the globe and has added 10 new countries to its latest list, including Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania, done in cooperation with the BIRN.

BIRN’s Ivana Nikolic, Programme Manager of Investigative Reporting Initiative, told the conference about BIRN’s motivation to map Beijing’s activities in the region, arguing that there is a growing need to critically assess the scope of Chinese-linked economic actions and their consequences.

“What we have seen is that while the number of Chinese economic activities in the Balkans is growing, access to official contracts and related documents is in the vast majority of cases impossible,” she said.

“This map is our own way to shed more light on Beijing’s interest in the Balkans as well as an effort to start important, critical discussions, which are unfortunately lacking in our societies,” Nikolic added.

BIRN journalists identified 136 Chinese-linked projects in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Greece worth of at least 32 billion euros.

However, as BIRN’s research shows, Chinese growing presence comes at a cost: among other things, Beijing’s economic activities often lack transparency and raise important concerns related to the environment, corruption, political influence, growing debt and disinformation.

In the coming months BIRN will continue the work on the interactive map, and also plans to research Russian and EU economic activities in the region, as part of its new “Spheres of Influence Uncovered project.