BIRN BiH Recognized for Reporting on Corruption Whistleblowers

At its annual meeting in Sarajevo, the Southeast Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection granted recognition for freedom of speech to BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina and other journalists and activists.

Recognitions for freedom of speech by the Southeast Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection were given for activist efforts, engagement in public interest and contribution to transparency within own community during 2022.

The Coalition granted recognition to Balkan Investigative Reporting Network of Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, for its courage and presentation of socially important information of public interest.

Other award winners include Amila Tatarevic (Baby Steps Association), journalist Rubina Cengic, Maida Bilal (Circle of Life, Kruscica, Foundation) and the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIN).

The annual meeting of the Coalition, hosted by the Center for Development of Youth Activism, CROA, and supported by the Secretariat of the Regional Anticorruption Initiative, RAI, served as a platform to present the activities of Coalition members, nongovernmental organizations from Southeast Europe, and for discussion of common challenges, strategies and solutions for improving the protection of whistleblowers in the region.

It was organized under the auspices of a regional project, “Breaking the Silence: Enhancing the Whistleblowing Policies and Culture in Western Balkans and Moldova”, which is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Secretariat of RAI.

The meeting gathered representatives of civil society organizations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Kosovo.

As BIRN BiH reported previously, for several years persons employed in state institutions in Bosnia have had the possibility to report corruption and get whistleblower status or protected corruption denouncer.

However, till now, few have acquired such status. One of the episodes of BIRN’s TV Justice showed what whistleblowers have to go through after reporting corruption, why they are still not protected, and how that can be changed.

In November last year, as we reported, a law to protect individuals reporting corruption in institutions or companies majority-owned by the entities had still not been adopted in Bosnia’s Federation entity.

Such a situation directly favours corruption perpetrators, as the Federation entity government admitted when adopting a proposed law on protection of corruption denunciators in August.

This is the second time ten years that the entity government has adopted the text of the law, but, just like other proposals by parliament members, it has never been fully adopted by the Federation assembly.

After ten years of hesitation, the law on protection of corruption denunciators should be adopted in the Federation soon, but experts warn that encouragement to report corruption will depend on the speed with which courts take measures of protection.

In the meantime, those who decide to report corruption risk losing their jobs and being forced to fight for their rights through courts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Igor Vujčić

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For January, meet Igor Vujčić, BIRN’s graphic designer.

Igor Vujčić, 37, comes from Serbia and has worked for BIRN as a graphic designer for the last three years. His natural gift in arts guided him to study at the College of Fine and Applied Arts in Belgrade.

Balkan Insight’s biggest investigative and long-form stories have his visual signature. His style has formed Balkan Insight’s unique visual identity.

Igor prefers to illustrate investigative stories, as they are more personal and include a human factor, unlike global news stories.

He believes that illustration is powerful, as it conveys the message that journalists want to transfer to the readers through their words, while simultaneously working as a tool to attract readers.

  1. Why did you become a graphic designer/illustrator? Who is your favourite artist?

As it usually goes with artists, from the first day I could hold a pen in my hand it was clear that I would become an artist, or something close to that. Throughout my childhood, I would sit for hours and draw superheroes and other favourite cartoon characters, so my natural choice after elementary school was the Design School in Belgrade, and the best fit to meet my passion for illustration was the Graphic Design department. There is certainly a bit of genetics in all that, as both my father and mother, though an electrical engineer and a medical worker, always had talent for drawing. Now my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter can already draw faces and details like at least a four-year-old kid.

Illustrator Bob Zivkovic was my childhood “hero”, while now that I’ve dived into the world of illustration, I cannot single out one favourite artist.

  1. Why did you decide to work as an illustrator for a media company, namely Balkan Insight?

Working for a media company like Balkan Insights enables a lot of freedom in expression, creativity and participation in diverse projects. It’s not only about getting the work done; I must also immerse myself in the topic and think metaphorically, finding new relations between objects and themes to convey the right message to the viewer. It is never boring and is quite challenging.

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

The possibility to experiment with styles is a big plus in this job; depending on the subject, I need to find the appropriate style which best fits the context. It enables me to make an authentic design that makes me also satisfied with my work. That is challenging at the same time, as I don’t use the same template and “recycle”, but always start from scratch.

  1. How difficult or easy is it to illustrate a media story and an in-depth investigation for Balkan Insight? How do visual elements contribute to media stories?

If done right, illustration is a powerful tool to attract readers and convey the message as, along with the headline, they tell part of a story, but still not enough, so they trigger a viewer’s curiosity, and our urge is to understand the whole story and not leave it “half-baked” in our minds. There is an expression that “people are visual creatures,” so the illustration for a media story makes a long-standing mark and adds to the expression of the journalist. That is at least what I hope is my contribution to an article.

  1. What kind of stories do you prefer to illustrate? Which is your favourite illustration you have done for Balkan Insight?

I mostly enjoy doing illustrations for investigative stories, as they are more personal and include a human factor, unlike global news stories. That means I can better relate to them and put myself in the correspondent’s shoes, and as a result provide a better visual for the story.

As for my favourite illustration, it is better to ask my colleagues and readers – what made the greatest impression and what triggered the conversation?

  1. Do you believe media should have visual identity? Can you tell us about Balkan Insight’s visual identity?

As the case is with any organization, visual identity makes a brand recognizable and enhances the credibility of the news piece.

When it comes to the visual identity of Balkan Insight, there is a good balance between excellent quality photography and illustration, which puts it on a par with major worldwide media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”.

 

 

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.