BIRN Serbia Journalist Wins CEI SEEMO Investigative Award

Natalija Jovanovic wins top award for her groundbreaking story on the number of COVID-related deaths in Serbia, which President Vucic initally rubbished, only for it to be confirmed later on.

BIRN Serbia journalist Natalija Jovanovic is the winner of this year’s CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism, promoted by the Central European Initiative CEI and the South East Europe Media Organisation SEEMO.

She is the  frontrunner for the “Young Journalist” award. Albanian journalist and BIRN contributor Esmeralda Keta won the jury’s special mention.

The awards ceremony was held on Thursday online in Belgrade.

Jovanovic is “a tenacious and brave reporter; the jury valued her story focusing on checking different COVID-19 data from different sources, carrying out her journalistic work through in-depth research,” the jury stated.

Her story “Serbia Under-Reported COVID-19 Deaths and Infections, Data Shows”, drew sharp reactions and comments from politicians, health experts, journalists, international organisations and others, and was quoted by influential media outlets across the world.

The subject of her article, published shortly after the June elections in Serbia, has become one of the main political and social issues in the country in recent months.

In July, after Serbian President President Aleksandar Vucic dismissed BIRN’s revelations, a government Crisis Staff member admitted in September that the COVID-19 death toll in June was far higher than was officially reported, blaming a new information system.

Investigations into health system failings won Albanian journalist Esmeralda Keta the jury’s special mention. Keta is an investigative journalist at Top Story show broadcasted by Top Channel and is a contributor to BIRN Albania’s Reporter.al and to BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight.

The jury highlighted the way “her model of journalism focuses on the injustices faced by vulnerable groups and the shortcomings in protecting citizens’ rights”

“I am very grateful for this prize and it means a lot to me. This pandemic placed a lot of challenges on all of us, but it has also encouraged us to be insistent and seek the truth, no matter what price is paid,” Keta said during her acceptance speech.“

Cecilia Anesi, investigative reporter at the online media of IRPI (Investigative Reporting Project Italy), was the winner in the “Professional Journalist” category.

This year’s edition of the CEI SEEMO Award gave priority to works covering issues related to the coronavirus crisis.

Before the awards ceremony, a conference, “(Re)Think the Digital – Reliability of the media, economic aspects of the pandemic, sustainable digital transitions in South East and Central Europe”, was organised simultaneously in Belgrade, Fažana, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Sofia, Tirana and Trieste.

Winners of EU Awards in North Macedonia Announced

Jury says it had a tough time evaluating the three best investigations out of a short list, as all three had the most important characteristic of good investigating journalism – ‘digging deeper under the surface’.

The EU Awards for Investigative Journalism for North Macedonia were presented to the winners on Thursday at the Aleksandar Palace Hotel in Skopje.

“This award aims to recognise the specific work of investigative journalists during the year,” David Geer, Head of the EU Delegation in Skopje, said at the ceremony.

“It aims to promote both freedom and responsibility – freedom to investigate and write about issues of public concern without fear – fear of punishment or reprisals. Responsibility: because there is a responsibility on all journalists – and the investigative journalist in particular – to apply the highest professional and ethical standards in their work,” he added.

The jury comprising jury head Vesna Nikodinoska and jury members Milica Saric and Marina Kostova had a tough task evaluating the 11 shortlisted applications.

“We had great responsibility before us,” Nikodinoska said: “We received 11 stories that passed the first selection phase out of 24, and tried our best to be objective. All three stories have the most important characteristic of investigative journalism – digging deeper and under the surface.”

She added: “I encourage journalists to work on investigations, because investigative journalism in this era of pseudo-media is needed more than ever in our developing democracies.”

First prize this year went to the Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia, IRL, for “Urban Assassins”, which the jury deemed a product of outstanding research.

“What was important for this story was a multi-disciplinary approach. Young directors, animators and most important young journalists all worked on this story. But cooperation with state institutions was also very important as was the reaction of citizens,” Saska Cvetkovska, from IRL, said.

Second prize went to Snezhana Lupevska Sozen, Miomir Serafinovic and Biljana Nikolovska for a justice-related investigation, “Murders in Kicevo – convicted for life and declared guilty for a murder he did not commit.”

“It was hard working on this story having in mind that it needed a lot of ‘digging’, contacts and traveling,” Serafinovic said after receiving the award.

“However, it is much harder for the prisoner for whom this story speaks, who is serving a life sentence, because despite all of our investigation and stories, we did not succeed in awakening the justice system to reconsider all the evidence we presented,” he added.

Third prize went to Petar Klincarski for “Denationalization stuck in corruption and incompetence of the institutions”.

“The process of denationalization, as you have seen, is full of inefficiency and the incompetence of institutions,” Klincarski said.

“There were indications of unlawful behaviour and misuse of power. What is most important is that there is no political will for solving open cases of denationalization and for clearing up suspicions of misbehaviour.”

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

The award for investigative journalism is awarded through the EU-funded project “Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey” in 2019, 2020, 2021 in EU candidate and potential candidate countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey, for investigative stories published between 2018 and 2020. In total, 63 awards will be awarded through a three-year period.

The award in North Macedonia is coordinated by the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers in North Macedonia, SSNM, while the regional consortium is led by Balkan Investigative Regional Reporting Network – BIRN Hub.

EU Investigative Awards Presented in Albania

Presenting the annual awards, EU delegation commends authors of probing investigations into voting fraud, shoddy new builds and public officials’ extravagant travel expenses.

In a ceremony held in Tirana on Wednesday October 21, three journalists were awarded for their investigative reporting, exposing the involvement of organised crime in voter fraud, the shoddy construction of buildings that collapsed in the November 2019 earthquake and the lavish travel expenditures of public officials.

In his opening remarks, Sylvain Gambert, deputy head of the Political, Economic and Information Section in the EU Delegation in Albania, said the EU was a stanch supporter of media freedom and freedom of expression.

“This indeed is the fifth year that we are doing this award in Albania and it shows our commitment in supporting investigative journalism and freedom of expression,” Gambert said.

First place went to Klodiana Lala, journalist for Albania’s News 24 TV and a BIRN contributor, for the story titled “Wiretaps Reveal the Role of Organised Crime in Vote Buying”, which the jury called a fine example of careful investigation, proper fact-checking and the determination to shed light on a phenomenon that is present in Albanian society but has rarely been properly verified.

“I am happy this article was recognised because in the end it exposed a phenomenon that was often debated but never proved through documents,” Lala said in her acceptance speech.

“We as journalists are bound by duty to be every day in search of facts, proof and evidence of events that institutions are trying to hide,” she added.

Second place went to Merxhan Daci, a journalist for the Albanian fact-checking service Faktoje, for an article shedding light on the questionable use of public funds by officials and public institutions.

The third place went to the TV reporter Andi Malasi, from Top Channel TV, for his investigation into the abuses related to newly built apartments that collapsed in the November 26th earthquake in Albania.

The ceremony continued with a reception. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the events had to be held outdoors with limited attendance

Thomson Media Advanced Mobile Journalism E-Workshop in Montenegro

After successful realisation of its advanced mobile journalism online workshop in the North Macedonia, Thomson Media announces a call for participants from Montenegro.

Eligible participants are those who have completed Thomson Media Mobile Journalism beginners online course, want to learn more tricks of the trade and produce high quality mobile journalism reports with support and mentoring from Thomson Media experts.

Join Aleksandar Mansiev and Norbert Sinkovic for the free Thomson Media Advanced Mobile Journalism online workshop from 27 – 31, October. This practical, live online workshop will allow you to acquire advanced skills in mobile journalism and put them into practice in group and individual work with support of our trainers and mentors.

By the end of it you will be able to:

  • Employ the techniques to create powerful images using a smartphone
  • Acquire skills in making short videos and photo-stories using smartphones
  • Create content of relevance to and that engages audiences.
  • Use filming and editing apps suitable for IOS and/or android devices
  • Recognise the different formats needed for different social media platforms
  • Adapt material filmed on smartphones for different social media platforms.
  • Construct content to work effectively for viewing on smartphones.
  • Use acquired editorial skills to create balanced content.

Busy week? Not to worry: although the online workshop takes place over 5 days, it has been designed to allow you to attend specific group and individual sessions, which means that you will be able to get on with your work and personal life in between!

Tuesday, 27.10: Participants have 4 hours online training with breaks and assignment (est. 3 hours).

Wednesday –  Friday: Participants work in groups : Group 1 session from 10:00 to 13:00 and Group 2 session from 14:00 to 17:00 (assignments of est. 3 hours)

Saturday, 31.10: The last day is dedicated to individual editing and production focused sessions. Each participant works with a trainer for 30 – 45 minutes and spends the rest of the day editing his/her mobile journalism output. Our trainers will be available from 10:00 until 18:00 for individual sessions.

After the e-workshop: All participants will have an opportunity to consult our experts in the weeks after the online workshop as they produce high quality mobile journalism content and finalise it for publishing.

To apply, please fill in this online form. Application deadline is Friday, 23 October.

Please note that completing our basic 4-hour online course on mobile journalism is a prerequisite for participation in the online workshop. To enrol please visit the online course page.

For more information about our e-workshop course on mobile journalism please contact Maja Vasic-Nikolic at majavn@thomsonfoundation.org.


The e-workshop is organized in the framework of the Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey project, which is implemented by BIRN Hub in partnership with Thomson Media gGmbH (TM), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Central European University (Center for Media, Data and Society at CEU), the Media Association of South-East Europe (MASEE), the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN CG), the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers in Macedonia (SSNM), BIRN Albania and BIRN Serbia.

The project is funded by EuropeAid/European Commission through its Regional Training and Support Program to Improve Quality and Professionalism in Journalism.

Bringing a Refugee Story to its True Protagonists

When BFJE fellow Stavros Malichudis published his investigation into young unaccompanied male asylum seekers and refugees in Greece, he took it to the kind of people featured in the story to test their reaction.

“We journalists work on a story, publish it, and then the feedback we usually get is limited to reactions on social media, from an audience that follows our work,” Greek reporter Stavros Malichudis told a group of people sitting in a circle on the floor of a living room in Athens. “But, in many cases, the ones that really need to get involved in the discussion are you – the protagonists in the stories we write,” he added.

On October 1, 2020, Balkan Insight published a long-term investigation into the different realities of unaccompanied minors that live in Greece, growing up in the shadow of coronavirus. The piece was produced as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, BFJE*, supported by the ERSTE Foundation, in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

For over a year, BFJE 2019 fellow Malichudis had followed young male refugees and asylum seekers that had arrived in Greece as unaccompanied minors, recording their lives and digging into the challenges they experienced.

During his research, he met unaccompanied minors living for months in grim conditions in the Fylakio and Amygdaleza detention centres, underage boys harvesting strawberries in Manolada and others living on the streets or sharing flats with up to 20 of their compatriots, while working on the “grey” market.

The article was published in both English and Greek. It was also translated into Pashto, Arabic, and Urdu, to be shared with the refugee communities, through the social networks they use to communicate and exchange information along the refugee route.

To mark the publication of the article, Solomon, a non-profit organisation founded in Athens which uses media as a tool for social inclusion and change, and BIRN teamed up to stage an event that included reading out the story and to which – more importantly – young male refugees and asylum seekers were invited, in order to share their reflections on it as well as their own experiences as unaccompanied minors.

The personal stories told by the participants matched a number of the realities that were described in Malichudis’ story. “I work in a mini-market of a relative which is down this street and sleep in the back of the store, because I have no other place to go,” A., an undocumented minor, shared. Like the other boys present, he spoke about the fact that they usually have to choose to work over education to make it through.

Photo: Nadir Noori

Another minor, J., has been living in Greece for two years, attends second grade at high school and speaks Greek amazingly fluently. “I am worried that next year they will ask me to leave the shelter and then I will have to work,” he said. He is planning to publish a book about his life as an unaccompanied minor with the help of an NGO.

The challenges of living in shelters in remote areas of Greece were also among the topics the group raised. One shared that he had been violently attacked in the centre of Athens, in an incident that he barely survived.

Participants opened up and also shared the deadlocks that they face almost daily due to the shortcomings of the welfare system when it comes to unaccompanied minors, as well as the burdens of their perception by society and the media, which tend either to portray them either as a “threat” or as objects of pity.

Maria Spiliotokara, a lawyer for HIAS,  the New York-based NGO that offers free legal assistance to asylum seekers around the world as well as in Greece, was also present and available for the participants’ questions, offering guidance on concerns and specific questions they had about the asylum process.

The event was hosted in the flat of Nasrudin Nizami, a member of Solomon and an interpreter for the Greek Council for Refugees, GCR, who assisted Malichudis with his research. Along with the photographer Nadir Noori, who has worked in the past with unaccompanied minors, Nizami provided interpretation services when needed, and coordinated the discussion at an event which aimed to recall an Afghani rather than a Greek gathering.

When the discussion turned to different topics as people enjoyed themselves over drinks and snacks, Μ. was the first to excuse himself and leave. “Thanks for the discussion and for having me. I have to go, or I’ll be late for my training,” this ambitious trainee boxer said; he is determined to do what it takes to follow his dream.

At the end of the night, before everyone said goodnight, S. asked Nadir Noori to translate some words for him. “Tell them I’m grateful for this evening. Next time, I will ask my sister to cook dinner for everyone”, he said in Farsi, before making his way back to the Malakasa camp from where he came.

*After 14 years, the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence will from now on be called Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, as the Visegrad Group countries — Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia— are also added.

Deadline Extended for Applications for Traineeship Programme for Young Journalists

The deadline for submission of applications for the four-month traineeship programme for students, recent graduates and young journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia has been extended until October 16, 2020, at midnight Central European Time.

Selected candidates will become full-time members of a newsroom for four months, attending editorial meetings, learning how to pitch ideas, choosing a relevant angle for a story, learning how to cover daily events, how to perform different kinds of interviews, write analyses, feature stories, etc.

Traineeship programme is being implemented within the regional ‘Media for All’ project and trainees will receive financial support to cover their costs of living.

DURATION OF TRAINEESHIP: November 2020 – February 2021

ONLINE TRAINING: Two weeks, November 2020

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS: Download here

APPLICATION FORM: Download here

LIST OF HOST MEDIA: Download here

Who can apply?

Senior year journalism students, recent graduates or young journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia may apply during the extended deadline (October 16, 2020, at midnight Central European Time).

Applicants must be between 18 and 26 years old.

Candidates from all parts of the country in question are encouraged to apply, as the project can provide funds for travel within one country, as well as accommodation costs.

Financial support:

All selected participants will receive financial support during their placement to cover minimum living costs.

In case candidates need to travel or relocate within the country during the course of the programme, travel and accommodation costs will also be covered by the organisers.

How to apply?

Applicants should complete and submit only one application that is attached to this CfA.

All applications should be submitted in English before October 16, 2020, at midnight Central European Time, to aida.ajanovic@birn.eu.com along with the following documents:

  • Applicant’s CV (in English)
  • Motivation letter (in English)
  • Work sample (in English or local language)
  • Evidence of status (in English or local language)

The motivation letter should show how you would benefit from this programme and your motivation to participate.

Applicants who do not have any published work can submit their student assignments from practical courses in journalism.

Applicants should provide evidence of their current status – whether they are students, recent graduates or working as journalists. This evidence includes, but are not limited to, confirmation of enrolment for the following year OR confirmation of graduation in the last two years OR evidence of your current employment.

Language:

All applications must be submitted in English, as well as applicants’ CV and motivation letter, while work samples and proof of status may be in local languages.

Working language of the initial online training on the basics of journalism will be English, so advanced knowledge of English language is required.

Traineeship programme will be delivered in local languages.

COVID-19 restrictions:

Initial training will be delivered online, due to the different travel restrictions in the region, as well as relevant health recommendations.

Traineeship programme is set to be delivered in person, if possible, or as a combination of conventional offline approach and online, remote work.

Our main priority is to protect the health of all involved in this process, including the trainees and their mentors in the host media, so we will continue to closely monitor coronavirus-related developments and adjust relevant activities accordingly.

 

BIRN Wins Austria’s Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award

RSF Austria on Thursday awarded BIRN its prestigious Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe – which BIRN’s regional director, Marija Ristic, described as an honour and encouragement.

In a ceremony held online because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Reporters Without Borders Austria on Thursday honoured BIRN for its courageous investigative journalism in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and for its dedication to the fight for human rights, democracy and justice for the victims of war crimes.

Marija Ristic, regional director of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, said she felt “honoured by this acknowledgment from our Austrian colleagues. It is an encouragement and it gives us more motivation to continue with our uncompromising reporting.”

“It support us in our endeavour to make our societies more democratic and hold powerful to account,” she added.

The award also specifically honoured BIRN’s founder, Gordana Igric, the organisation’s regional director until May 2018, for her pioneering work in establishing the network.

“With it, she has done enormous and almost unbelievable pioneering work,” Rubina Mohring, president of Reporters Without Borders Austria, said.

“The result is a masterpiece,” Mohring added. “This pan-Balkan journalistic network that she has built up now has offices in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. The publications of the BIRN reports also reach the media in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece and Croatia, in Moldova and Montenegro, in Poland and Slovenia and in the Czech Republic.”

BIRN’s regional director, Marija Ristic holds Austria’s Reporters Without Borders award. Photo: BIRN

Ristic stressed that the award was going to the entire organisation. “This is not just a reward for my leadership and Goca’s vision,” she said. “It is a reward for the whole network – with more than 200 people who work together and really made cross-border journalism, collaboration and diversity a reality in a region that saw wars and unrest.”

Workers for the network “are often labelled spies”, she remarked. “They face pressure, intimidation and lawsuits – but despite all of that they produce great public interest journalism.”

The Austrian branch of Reporters Without Borders, RSF, gives the Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe every year.

The Paris-based RSF is a leading international non-profit and non-governmental organisation. It is dedicated to safeguarding the right to freedom of information, to promoting free, independent and pluralistic journalism and to defending media workers.

BIRN Kosovo Holds Municipal Finances Debate in Vushtrri/Vucitrn

BIRN Kosovo held a town hall conference in the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn on September 29 to discuss the roles of Kosovo’s citizens and the National Audit Office in overseeing municipal revenues and expenses.

The debate, entitled ‘The Role of the Auditor and Citizens in Overseeing Municipal Revenues and Expenditures’, was the third to be organised within the framework of a project called ‘Promoting the Auditor General/NAO’s role in Kosovo’.

Supported by the embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Pristina, these town hall conferences are intended to examine the difficulties that municipalities face in collecting revenues and executing their budget. They also present the findings of the Auditor General, with a particular emphasis on those relating to public finances.

At the conference on Tuesday were the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Carin Lobbezoo, the mayor of the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn, Xhafer Tahiri, general auditor Besnik Osmani and the managing editor at KALLXO.com, Visar Prebreza, as well as a number of representatives from civil society and assembly members from the municipality. The conference was streamed live on BIRN’s anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com.

Ambassador Lobbezoo opened the session by stating that the embassy has supported this project because citizens should know how money is being spent by their elected representatives.

“Citizens need to know if their elected representatives are doing a good job for them and spending money properly,” Lobbezoo stated.

“That is why, through our project, we have supported BIRN and the role of the Auditor General in Kosovo.”

Issues surrounding procurement turned out to be the most problematic area in the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn. In the last four years, this municipality has received 19 recommendations from the NAO to address violations and irregularities in procurement, including seven recommendations in 2019 alone.

Prebreza presented the auditor’s findings in its 2019 report on the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn, explaining the areas in which the municipality has both succeeded and faltered.

He said that the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn is extremely good in terms of budget execution compared to other municipalities in the first six months of 2019.
General Auditor Besnik Osmani discussed NAO recommendations implemented by the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn.

“Before coming here, I read an action plan made by the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn to address these recommendations and it is very detailed, and contains both the responsibilities and the time periods for the implementation of the recommendations,” Osmani said.

However, the general auditor stressed that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Mayor Tahiri stated he would personally ensure that more recommendations are implemented.

“I promise that my team and I will send cases to the prosecutor’s office wherever we encounter a criminal offense,” Tahiri added.

Similar town hall conferences will be held in other municipalities in Kosovo with the aim of presenting BIRN’s analysis of the implementation of the auditor’s recommendations and public finances.

All of them will be held in municipal assembly halls, and will be livestreamed by BIRN Kosovo.

Thomson Media Advanced mobile journalism e-workshop in North Macedonia

Thomson Media announces call for participants for its advanced online workshops on mobile journalism.

Eligible participants are those who have completed Thomson Media Mobile Journalism beginners online course, want to learn more tricks of the trade and produce high quality mobile journalism reports with support and mentoring from Thomson Media experts.

Join Aleksandar Mansiev and Kristina Ozimec for the free Thomson Media Advanced Mobile Journalism online workshop from 5 – 10, October. This practical, live online workshop will allow you to acquire advanced skills in mobile journalism and put them into practice in group and individual work with support of our trainers and mentors.

By the end of it you will be able to:

  • Employ the techniques to create powerful images using a smartphone
  • Acquire skills in making short videos and photo-stories using smartphones
  • Create content of relevance to and that engages audiences.
  • Use filming and editing apps suitable for IOS and/or android devices
  • Recognise the different formats needed for different social media platforms
  • Adapt material filmed on smartphones for different social media platforms.
  • Construct content to work effectively for viewing on smartphones.
  • Use acquired editorial skills to create balanced content.

Busy week? Not to worry: although the online workshop takes place over 5 days, it has been designed to allow you to attend specific group and individual sessions, which means that you will be able to get on with your work and personal life in between!

Tuesday, 06. 10: Participants have 4 hours of online training with breaks and an assignment (est. 3 hours).

Wednesday –  Friday: Participants work in groups: Group 1 session from 10:00 to 13:00 and Group 2 session from 14:00 to 17:00 (assignments of est. 3 hours)

Saturday, 10. 10: The last day is dedicated to individual editing and production focused sessions. Each participant works with a trainer for 30 – 45 minutes and spends the rest of the day editing his/her mobile journalism output. Our trainers will be available from 10:00 until 18:00 for individual sessions.

After the e-workshop: All participants will have an opportunity to consult our experts in the weeks after the online workshop as they produce high quality mobile journalism content and finalise it for publishing.

To apply, please fill in this online form. The application deadline is Sunday, 4 October, by 16h.

Please note that completing our basic 4-hour online course on mobile journalism is a prerequisite for participation in the online workshop. To enroll please visit the online course page.

For more information about our e-workshop course on mobile journalism please contact Maja Vasic-Nikolic at majavn@thomsonfoundation.org.

The e-workshop is organized in the framework of the Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey project, which is implemented by BIRN Hub in partnership with Thomson Media gGmbH (TM), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Central European University (Center for Media, Data and Society at CEU), the Media Association of South-East Europe (MASEE), the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN CG), the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers in Macedonia (SSNM), BIRN Albania and BIRN Serbia.

The project is funded by EuropeAid/European Commission through its Regional Training and Support Program to Improve Quality and Professionalism in Journalism.

Serbia Hugely Underestimated COVID-19 Death Toll, Official Admits

Confirming the substance of BIRN reports on this issue, a Government Crisis Staff member has admitted that the COVID-19 death toll in June was far higher than was officially reported, blaming a new information system.

A member of the Serbian Government’s Crisis Staff, Predrag Kon, has admitted that the number of deaths related to COVID-19 by June officially announced by the government was three times less than the real number.

Kon blamed the new informational system being used for the first time, which had not been not accurate, saying subsequent analysis of the data revealed a big difference between the real and announced numbers.

“We were using an information system for the first time. That information system at one point, at one time, was not precise enough and I cannot say why, so, somewhere from mid-June, it was not accurate,” Kon told NewsMaxAdria TV on Tuesday.

“Examining everything that happened, it is clear that there is a difference between what we, at the level of Belgrade, determined as cases and, especially deaths,” he added.

“Deaths cannot be accurately reported unless a certain period has elapsed. The data entered in the death certificate is only returned in two months… I processed the data by June. By June, in short, there were three times more deaths not only than what was officially announced but also what was reported,” he continued.

Kon said that such things “happen all the time”, and repeated that “we have never worked on that system”.

At the end of June BIRN reported that from March 19 to June 1 this year, a total of 632 people died in Serbia who had tested positive for the coronavirus, which was more than twice the officially announced number of 244 deaths in that period.

By analysing data obtained from the state’s own COVID-19 information system, BIRN also reported that the number of people who had oecame infected in Serbia from June 17 to June 20 was at least 300 per day, which was far more than the officially announced figures. They recorded a maximum of 97 new cases in a single day during that period.

At that point, officials from Batut Institute, which manages the COVID-19 information system, declined to respond to the BIRN reports while state officials, including President Aleksandar Vucic, dismissed BIRN’s revelations.

Serbia was in a state of emergency, with a curfew and strict bans on movement lasting from March 15 until May 6. Soon after the state of emergency was lifted, many of the other bans were lifted, too, so Serbia was among the first states in Europe to again allow mass gatherings, and big audiences for football matches. One between local rivals Red Star and Partisan on June 10, according to Reuters agency, attracted some 25,000 fans. Serbia also held parliamentary elections in June 2020.