EU Awards for best Investigative Journalism in North Macedonia Announced

On September 28 in Europe House in Skopje, the winners of the EU Awards for Investigative Journalism in North Macedonia were announced.

Journalists from IRL Macedonia (Saska Cvetkovska, Elena Mitrevska Cuckovska, Maja Jovanovska, Trifun Sitnikovski), Frosina Dimeska, Miomir Serafinovic, Snezana Lupevska were selected from many colleagues as this year`s winners for their stories published in 2022.

The jury consisted of Konstantin Testorides, a journalist with more than 40 years of experience based in Skopje, with background as a correspondent for Tanjug News Agency and Associated Press and with a working experience in various news outlets as journalist and editor in TV stations and news agencies; Filip Rudić, a journalist based in Belgrade, currently working for the regional TV channel N1 in Serbia who also won the Anthony Lewis Prize for Exceptional Rule of Law Journalism and was a finalist for the Global Shining Light Award with the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia; and Boris Georgievski, a Macedonian-German journalist currently serving as the Head of the Macedonian Program with the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW). He worked as a reporter, editor and correspondent for various news outlets  and was the winner of the Investigative journalism award in 2008 and the EU Award for investigative journalism 2016.

The first prize went to Saska Cvetkovska, Elena Mitrevska Cuckovska, Maja Jovanovska and Trifun Sitnikovski from IRL Macedonia for their story Bad blood / Нечиста крв which shed light on the treatment of patients in a private hospital in North Macedonia during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Second prize went to Frosina Dimeska from Prizma for the story A fugitive Ukrainian politician under US sanctions received Macedonian citizenship / Избеган украински политичар под санкции на САД, добил македонско државјанство. Following publication of the story, North Macedonia revoked the citizenship of the Ukrainian politician.

Third prize was given to Miomir Serafinovikj and Snezana Lupevska Sozen who did a series of stories: The state did not collect money from a convicted crime, (Un)successful confiscation of Transmet / КОД: Државата не наплати пари од пресудено кривично дело-(Не)успешната конфискација на Трансмет as part of the investigative show KOD broadcasted on TV Telma.

The awards were given by Ambassador David Geer, Head of the Delegation of the European Union who highlighted the importance of investigative journalism. A representative from the jury, Konstantin Testorides, provided a detailed explanation of the award selection process and announced the recipients of each awarded position.

More information can be found here.

The EU Award for Investigative Journalism 2023 is part of the project “Strengthening Quality Journalism in Western Balkans and Türkiye II”. This aims to recognise and promote outstanding achievements in investigative journalism as well as improve the visibility of quality journalism in the Western Balkans and Türkiye.

The project is funded by the European Union, and it is implemented by a consortium composed of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Hub, Central European University (CEU) – Hungary, the Association of Journalists (AJ) – Türkiye, Thomson Media (TM) – Germany, University Goce Delcev Stip (UGD) – North Macedonia, The Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) – North Macedonia, Media Association of South-East Europe (MASE) – Montenegro, and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo (BIRN Kosovo).

 

 

EU Awards for Best Investigative Journalism in Albania Announced

On September 21 in Europe House in Tirana, the winners of the EU Awards for Investigative Awards for Investigative Journalism in Albania were announced.

Aurora Velaj, Osman Stafa, Anila Hoxha and Artan Rama were selected from many colleagues as this year’s winners for their stories published in 2022 exposing wrongdoings related to discrimination, healthcare and spendings of public funds.

The jury consisted of Jeton Mehmeti, media professional, consultant, researcher, Chairman of the Independent Media Commission and lecturer at the University of Prishtina; Ornela Liperi, editor-in-chief of Monitor magazine, and Valbona Sulçe, journalist and media researcher with a background in diversity, gender equality, media literacy, and ethical journalism, championing the cause of Albanian women in audiovisual.

The first prize went to Velaj for her documentary Po na shujn!. This story reveals the silent ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Serbia’s Presheva Valley through postal address removal, shedding light on discrimination against the country’s ethnic Albanian population.

The second prize went to Stafa for his story Mungesa e ilaçeve në QSUNT rrezikon jetën e fëmijëve, që vuajnë nga tumori, which spotlighted the challenges of supplying essential drugs to children with cancer in Albania, driving change in healthcare.

The third prize was given to the stories produced by Anila Hoxha’s “Sekret shtetëror”, which explores the human and financial costs of helicopter contracts in Albania, and Artan Rama’s “Kush e kontrollon Butrintin/Who manages Butrint?”, which exposes management and transparency issues at Albania’s significant heritage site, urging preservation and accountability.

The awards were given by the Deputy Head of the European Delegation in Albania, Jean-Baptiste Le Bras, who emphasized the pivotal role of investigative journalism in democracy, governance, and accountability.

Blerjana Bino from Thomson Media introduced the project and the importance of the EU award for supporting investigative journalism in the Western Balkans and Türkiye. Ornela Liperi, representing the jury, provided a detailed explanation of the award selection process and announced the recipients of each awarded position.

More information can be found here.

The EU Award for Investigative Journalism 2023 is part of the project “Strengthening Quality Journalism in Western Balkans and Türkiye II”. This aims to recognise and promote outstanding achievements in investigative journalism as well as improve the visibility of quality journalism in the Western Balkans and Türkiye.

The project is funded by the European Union and it is implemented by a consortium composed of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Hub, Central European University (CEU) – Hungary, the Association of Journalists (AJ) – Türkiye, Thomson Media (TM) – Germany, University Goce Delcev Stip (UGD) – North Macedonia, The Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) – North Macedonia, Media Association of South-East Europe (MASE) – Montenegro, and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo (BIRN Kosovo).

 

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Sasa Dragojlo

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For September, meet Sasa Dragojlo, Balkan Insight’s Serbian correspondent.

Sasa Dragojlo, 33, wanted to write poetry with rhythm and hip-hop music but at the same was curious about people and the world. Eventually, he decided to become a journalist because it combines all of these.

Before journalism, he did many jobs from working in call centres to warehouses; however, in April 2015 he grasped the opportunity to work for BIRN. Since then, he has never quit this “nutjob profession”, as he calls it.

His favourite topics to work on are about corruption, crime, human trafficking, etc. Together with BIRN’s Kosovo correspondent, Xhorxhina Bami, he worked on an investigative story on the weaponry seized from Serb gunmen in northern Kosovo.

Recently, he won third prize as part of a team of BIRN and the Centre for investigative journalism of Serbia CINS for an investigation into Serbian arms exports to Myanmar following the army coup in that country. He also won third prize in the EU investigative awards for a story on a translator for the Serbian police who led a people-smuggling gang.

Let’s meet him!

  1. Why did you become a journalist and work for an investigative non-profit like BIRN? What do you like most in your job, and what is the most challenging thing?

I always wanted something linked to writing – from literature to poetry with rhythm, etc., like hip hop music. However, I have also been curious about the world in general and why we, as individuals, act like we act and that led me to the politics of our communities and the ideologies that shape them. But I also like to be active, learn about real people and ‘fight the power’. And when you combine all that, you get journalism – an eclectic field that combines all of that. However, when I got my degree at the Faculty of Political Science the future in journalism was not so clear. I wrote columns, essays and free-form prose in multiple online media, but could not live off it, so I worked multiple ‘real jobs’ – from call centres to warehouses. I thought I would never find a media that wanted me, have enough money, or where I wanted to work (I would not want to work in 90 per cent of the media; a construction job looked more attractive). But in April 2015 I got a chance to work for BIRN and since then I never quit this nutjob profession.

  1. What kind of stories do you prefer to work on?

I like to work on stories where, along with big corruption or crime, you have a story of ordinary small people. During my career I noticed that many colleagues would avoid stories about labour exploitation, human trafficking, or the housing crisis, but chase procurement frauds or dirty things concerning big names in politics, etc. But I find it wrong, and it’s one of the reasons people do not trust old-school media. Since I started working, I always emphasized those topics and they are the ones I’m proudest of. I would not name one, because there are really a lot of them.

  1. Together with Xhorxhina Bami, you worked on an investigative story on the weaponry seized from Serb gunmen in northern Kosovo last month. Would you like to tell us more about this?

This story is a classic reaction to an event that shook the whole region and even further. We wanted to see what we can do as a proper and professional newsroom. Since both sides – Belgrade and Pristina – are not trustworthy actors and are looking for their propagandist angle, we decided to take a look at the material evidence – the weapons arsenal seized by Kosovo Police. After days of close looks at the weapons, we found our angle – a pile of weapons whose marks suggested they were made in Serbian institutions or arms factories in recent years, which made them easier to trace. Our story was the first independent evidence in this case and many regional media were interested in reporting about it. I gave numerous interviews in Serbia and a few in the region and I hope the impact will not end at that.

  1. Recently, you won third prize as part of a team of BIRN and the Centre for investigative journalism of Serbia CINS for an investigation on Serbia’s arms exports to Myanmar. Also, you won third prize in the EU awards for a story on a Serbian police translator who led a people-smuggling gang. Tell us more about these investigations.

The investigation about Serbia’s arms export to Myanmar following the army coup in that country was a great example of collaboration between different media organisations. When we found out we were working on the same story, we decided to cooperate and not to go into competition. That is the main reason I really like that story, beside it shows how business and especially the arms industry are always looking to bypass legal and ethical norms. Tackling that is one of the key goals of professional journalism.

The story “With Police Connections, Serbian-Syrian Translator Turned People-Smuggler” is one of my favourite stories. I spent months working on it, meeting sources in the crime underworld, informants of security services and police, and lost a lot of nerves to prove my claims. But the results have been rewarding. This story shows how our world works – hypocrisy and fake humanitarians, criminals and police as two sides of the same coin, violence and human rights violations as a norm – the refugee crisis as a global phenomenon we cannot escape from. As much as we ignore it, it will not stop. Things seem to get much worse, considering the ongoing ecological and social crisis, along with bloody wars all over the globe.

  1. Can you advise fellow journalists from the region on how to investigate arms trafficking? 

First, I would tell any journalist to develop sources. Go out there and speak to the devil itself. Not for exhibitionism, but to understand and collect information you will use in the public interest. You need to touch the heart of darkness in order to write about it. In our world, where the few rule the many, good contacts are essential. Important information, unfortunately, is rarely obtained through FOI requests. OSINT methods are necessary and really essential to investigate arms trafficking, but without good sources, in most cases, you are just touching the surface.

 

BIRN Seeks AI Researchers from Croatia and Hungary

BIRN is seeking applications for multiple positions of Country Researcher for the Global Index on Responsible Artificial Intelligence (GIRAI) project to support the development of a comprehensive set of benchmarks for measuring countries’ commitment towards responsible AI worldwide.

Who can apply?

Candidates from Croatia and Hungary are welcome to apply for this position.

Role overview

As a Country Researcher, you will be involved in gathering and assessing evidence on responsible AI commitments and progress in your designated country, contributing to advancing accountable and rights-based AI principles globally.

The main tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Collecting and evaluating data on your nation’s AI commitments and advancements.
  • Contributing to global best practices for responsible AI.
  • Attending essential training courses on GIRAI tools, methodology and data collection.
  • Complying with data quality standards, submission timelines and data collection processes set by GIRAI and BIRN.
  • Investigating key AI thematic areas: Gender Equality, Data Protection, Privacy, Bias, Discrimination, Labour Protection, Accountability, Transparency, etc.

Minimum requirements

  • Awareness of recent AI policy developments in your country.
  • Proficiency in English and at least one official language of your country.
  • Demonstrated experience in data collection and research.
  • Ability to work autonomously, meet deadlines and maintain data quality.
  • Full-time availability from mid-October 2023 to March 2024.

How to apply

Apply by completing the following application form before Friday, October 6, 2023, at 5pm (CET). Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

Workshop for Sarajevo Canton Teachers on Teaching History from Database of Judicially Established Facts

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Institute for Development of Pre-University Education of Sarajevo Canton are organising workshops in October for history teachers at which plans for lessons about the past and a multimedia Database of Judicially Established Facts will be presented.

During a meeting held at the Institute for Development of Pre-University Education of Sarajevo Canton – an advisory, educational and coordination body for starting and steering the growth and development of the educational system – participants stressed the need for teachers to use the Database of Judicially Established Facts, arising from previous evaluations filled out by educators to whom BIRN BiH had presented the materials.

Institute director Senada Salihovic said it was a pleasure to offer to teachers an innovative, yet verified, working material.

“We gladly support and participate in projects which will be based on high pedagogical and scientific standards, as a guarantor of development and progress of society as a whole. Our mission is to motivate teachers for further training, although they are already doing an excellent job,” Salihovic said.

In March 2023, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network of Bosnia and Herzegovina BIRN BiH presented its Database of Judicially Established Facts about the War in BiH.

This contains information from all Hague Tribunal verdicts about crimes committed in the 1992-5 war, video testimonials from survivors and victims tailored to pupils, as well as lesson plans containing activities, to help teachers and professors give lessons about topics from the recent past.

“We are pleased that as many teachers as possible will use our database. Our goal is to start working on its expansion soon, by means of drawing facts also from verdicts passed down before the State Court and other courts in the region, in addition to those from the Hague verdicts,” BIRN BiH director Denis Dzidic said.

The October workshop for teachers in Sarajevo will be run by representatives of the Institute and BIRN BiH who worked on compiling the materials, alongside professor Melisa Foric-Plasto.

For the purposes of this project, she has prepared a 200-page document containing lesson plans with learning activities and concrete examples of events from the past war.

 

 

Internet Governance Forum to Be Held in Bosnia Again

After five years, the Internet Governance Forum is being held again in Bosnia – and, below, you can help select the topics to be discussed by experts in cyber-security and citizens’ rights, representatives of academic community and the media.

The first national meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, BH IGF, to be held in Bosnia in the past five years is scheduled to take place in Novotel Hotel, Sarajevo, on October 2.

Given the complexity of the country’s set-up, the non-existence of a strategic approach and the growing challenges facing the country as regards digital rights, cyber-security, social media operation and other issues in the online sphere, BIRN BiH jointly with its partners has decided to relaunch the IGF platform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Organising Committee consists of the Cyber-Security Excellence Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina, CSEC, BHNIX.ba, the Centre for Education of Judges and Prosecutors of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Faculty of Political Sciences of the Sarajevo University, Logosoft and BIRN BiH.

The main focus of the forum will be cyber-security, with a new report on such threats in Bosnia to be presented for the first time, as well as on freedom of expression and the media on the Internet, historical revisionism, and violence against women and marginalized groups through information and communications technologies.

Each session will result in key recommendations, which will be conveyed to the Global IGF 2023 to be held in Tokyo, which has been convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations since 2006.

It would give us great pleasure if, by selecting two of the offered topics of importance for citizens, you would influence the work of this year’s forum, whose practical ideas will be presented at the next annual meeting. And, if you wish to attend in person, email your application to: [email protected]

Choose two topics for the Internet Governance Forum in Bosnia

  1. Violence on the Internet
  2. Security in cyber space (security of institutions, private companies, citizens’ data)
  3. Systematic approach to the Internet issue
  4. Networks as a platform for hate speech, genocide and war crime denial and disinformation
  5. Freedom of speech on the Internet, vs repressive laws restricting it
  6. Bosnia’s readiness for artificial intelligence, AI
  7. Human rights before digitalization
  8. Other…

 

 

BIRN Seeks AI Researchers: Applications Open

BIRN is seeking applications for multiple positions of Country Researcher for the Global Index on Responsible Artificial Intelligence (GIRAI) project to support the development of a comprehensive set of benchmarks for measuring countries’ commitment towards responsible AI worldwide.

Who can apply?

Candidates from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Romania are welcome to apply for this position.

Role overview

As a Country Researcher, you will be involved in gathering and assessing evidence on responsible AI commitments and progress in your designated country, contributing to advancing accountable and rights-based AI principles globally.

The main tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Collecting and evaluating data on your nation’s AI commitments and advancements.
  • Contributing to global best practices for responsible AI.
  • Attending essential training courses on GIRAI tools, methodology and data collection.
  • Complying with data quality standards, submission timelines and data collection processes set by GIRAI and BIRN.
  • Investigating key AI thematic areas: Gender Equality, Data Protection, Privacy, Bias, Discrimination, Labour Protection, Accountability, Transparency, etc.

Minimum requirements

  • Awareness of recent AI policy developments in your country.
  • Proficiency in English and at least one official language of your country.
  • Demonstrated experience in data collection and research.
  • Ability to work autonomously, meet deadlines and maintain data quality.
  • Full-time availability from mid-October 2023 to March 2024.

How to apply

Apply by completing the following application form before September 25, 2023, at 5pm (CET). Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

BIRN Holds Data Journalism and OSINT Training in Montenegro

The Balkan Investigative Regional Reporting Network, BIRN Hub and partners from Germany, Georgia and Uzbekistan organised a three-day training course to boost the reporting skills of group of international journalists in Montenegro.

A total of 20 journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan spent a weekend in the Montenegrin coastal town of Budva from September 7-11, honing their data journalism and open-source intelligence (OSINT) skills.

During the training course, which the participants worked with trainer Carolyn Thompson, a freelance journalist and editor who is an expert in data journalism and OSINT.

Thompson covered the core concepts of data journalism – what it is; how does coding contribute; how to think about data and where to find it.

She also talked about advanced techniques – pivot tables, practicing visualisations – and dedicated a full session to giving journalists the opportunity to try out these methods on their stories, with her mentorship and guidance.

Thompson also covered basic OSINT concepts and advanced techniques, also dedicating a full session to letting participants practice the skills they learned on the stories they are working on as part of the project.

In a separate session with regional editors, the participants discussed the progress of their cross-border and cross-regional projects, and were asked about the challenges and obstacles they came across while working on their joint projects.

Apart from the sessions, participants spent the afternoon at the luxury Porto Montenegro complex in the town of Tivat with Sinisa Lukovic, a prominent Montenegrin journalist.

Lukovic walked them through the complex and explained the origins of the investment and its positive and negative effects on Tivat and Montenegro in general.

The workshop is part of the project ‘Spheres of Influence Uncovered’, which is jointly being implemented by BIRN, German NGO n-ost, Uzbek media outlet Anhor and Georgia’s JAMNews.

‘Spheres of Influence Uncovered’ aims to contribute to a better understanding of the roles that three key international players – the EU, Russia and China – have on the seven project countries’ economies.

During the project, the participating journalists will map the economic activities of these three players and identify the main challenges and consequences for their countries. This project is partly a follow-up to BIRN’s previous work in the sphere of foreign economic activities, explored in its interactive map of China’s activities in the Balkans.

So far, the Balkan participants have produced three country-based stories – about the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Macedonian agriculture, about the Macedonian automobile industry being boosted by investments, and about Serbian companies and individuals blacklisted by the US continuing to win public tenders. More will be published by the end of the year.

 

 

BIRN BiH Launches Video Campaign about Missing Persons

Marking International Day of the Disappeared, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has launched a campaign to help raise awareness of the pain of family members of those who disappeared during and after the war.

by Dzana Brkanic

By August 28, ten videos of family members of the disappeared from across Bosnia and Herzegovina – saying who they are searching for and sharing memories of that person, with a plea for help in finding the person – will be posted on BIRN BiH’s social media.

All of them share a joint pain and hope that they will one day find the remains of their loved ones before they die.

“Considering that we have reported on war crimes and on missing persons in BiH for nearly two decades, we are well acquainted with what the families are going through. Unfortunately, we have fewer and fewer interlocutors, because families are disappearing naturally.

“This campaign is our way to be their voice, with a hope that someone who sees these videos will help them, that someone will grow a conscience and reveal where the bodies were buried,” said Denis Dzidic, executive director of BIRN BiH.

He explained that, at the end of each video, there is information on how to report locations of individual or mass graves to the Missing Persons Institute of BiH anonymously.

Within BIRN BiH’s campaign, called “I am still searching for…”, members of families of the missing have shared their own findings about their loved ones’ fates.

Some went missing in the area of Sarajevo and its surroundings, others in Mostar, Bugojno, Zvornik and other places in Bosnia. BIRN BiH spoke to fathers, mothers, sisters and children of the missing, and many of them described their love for, and memories of, their loved ones.

All of them asked for help, highlighting that many members of their families did not live to bury their loved ones. Many of them would give everything and pay for the information, they said in the filming.

Around 30,000 people went missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-5 war and the search for more than 7,000 of them is still ongoing.

The International Day of the Disappeared is marked each August 30, as a day of remembrance of and tribute to people across the globe, who went missing in armed conflicts, crimes against humanity or as a result of violations of basic human rights.

The campaign is being implemented with the support of the Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation consortium.

 

BIRN Summer School Ends in Greece

On the last two days of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting, participants learned about investigating migration, were introduced to data journalism and pitched their story ideas.

Sessions on investigating human rights abuses kicked off the fifth day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Alison Killing, founder of Killing Architects, spoke about how they used advanced visual investigation techniques to uncover the tragic events that led to the deaths of 23 people and the disappearance of 77 others at the border post in Melilla, Spain, in June last year.

Killing also presented their investigation into the network of camps built by the Chinese government in Xinjiang for the mass detention of Muslims. Journalists couldn’t work effectively in Xianjing, so they used satellite imagery.

“When we started, we thought we might find 500,000 blanked-out map tiles on the Chinese Baidu Maps. We found 5 million,” Killing said. The question was how this information could meet journalistic standards.

Participants were introduced to data journalism, a discipline based on data analysis that helps tell stories that happen systematically. Editor-in-Chief of Correctiv Olaya Argüeso Perez presented examples of data-based stories and then guided journalists through some exercises.

Friday concluded with a panel discussion on investigating the crisis over migration policy in Greece.

Apostolos Fotiadis and Stavros Maluchidis, from the Greek independent media outlet “We Are Solomon”, discussed the challenges of reporting on migration.

“The Greek public broadcaster calls migrants ‘illegal’. This should not be the case. We, journalists, need to work better and think about the language we use,” Maluchidis said.

The Head of the Migration Policy Europe Programme at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Neda Noraie-Kia, agreed.

“Mainstream media play a crucial role in informing the public about migrants and assessing what is happening with them. Policies go hand in hand with the language used. With this kind of language, they are already suggesting that something illegal is happening,” Noraie-Kia said.

“Traditional reporting is dead. To make it work, we need to combine different techniques, such as OSINT when reporting on migration,” Maluchidis added.

Apostolos Fotiadis talked about the responsibility of journalists when covering the war in Ukraine.

“We need to go beyond the agenda of Brussels and governments. We should also talk about arms trade and export that fuels wars and displacement,” he said.

The one-week training programme ended on Saturday with the participants presenting their investigative story proposals to BIRN editors.

Journalists pitched more than 15 ideas, mostly cross-border. Proposed stories deal with migration, healthcare, human rights and corruption, to name a few.

BIRN editors will select the best pitches. Selected journalists will receive funding, editorial support and mentoring from BIRN.