Are the Public Budgets Misused? Monitoring of State Financing Media Projects

BIRN Serbia
Non-transparent, uncontrolled, and arbitrary allocation of state funds is recognised as one of the most efficient mechanisms of ’soft-censorship’ harming media economic sustainability and, consequently, its independence.

Summary

The long-term objective of the project is transparency and accountability of state financing of media projects and ensuring the quality of public informing. Developed mechanisms of monitoring state budget spending on media will have a positive impact on a manner how the financial resources are allocated ad spent.

Donors: Open Society Foundation Serbia.

Information Sheet

Objectives

BIRN’s advocacy activities focus on public money spending in the media sector and potential corruption and state budgets misuses. Non-transparent, uncontrolled, and arbitrary allocation of state funds is recognised as one of the most efficient mechanisms of ’soft-censorship’ harming media economic sustainability and, consequently, its independence. BIRN, in partnership with IJAS and Slavko Curuvija Foundation implemented the project Public Money for Public Interest and monitored public money spending indicating occurred funds’ misuse. The consortium identified problems which require additional analysis: numerous abuses in the state funding media process (arbitrary selection of commission members, funds allocated to tabloids and media supporting the ruling party, lack of citizens’ participation and scrutiny), accompanied with a low-quality media production; inadequate regulations for individual fund allocations, lack of market and finance analysis before public procurement procedures, increase direct contracts allocation for various media and promotional services directly influencing editorial independence.

Activities

1) Monitoring of public money spending on media production;
2) Report production;
3) Advocacy campaign.

Target Groups

1) Local self-government
2) Ministry of Culture and Information
3) Citizens
4) Media outlets and media associations
5) Civil Society Organisations

Partners

Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia

Fellowship for Journalistic Exellence

BIRN Hub

Fellows’ stories are published by BIRN’s Balkan Insight and
Reporting Democracy platforms and disseminated widely through our network of media partners in all local languages as well as in
English and German.

Summary

Fellowship for Journalistic Exellence provides financial means and editorial mentoring to journalists in order to produce cross-border long form articles with regional relevance.

As of 2020 programme is expanded to journalists from Visegrad countries, in addition to journalists from the Balkans where this flagship initiative exists since 2007. It is keeping the key elements of the previous Balkan Fellowhip for Journalistic Excellence concept (initial seminar, mentoring support, editorial sessions promotion and publishing), which has been globally recognized as a highly successful media development programme.

Each year, 10 journalists are chosen through open competition to receive a €3,000 bursary, close editorial supervision and mentoring, and the chance to attend international career development seminars and be published in the most influential regional and international media. In addition, the top three articles chosen by an international jury will receive awards.

Fellows’ stories are published by BIRN’s Balkan Insight and Reporting Democracy platforms and disseminated widely through our network of media partners in all local languages as well as in English and German.

After the successful completion of the programme fellows are becoming part of the Alumni network of  journalists across the region committed to excellence in their profession.

Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence now covers 14 countries. In addition to the Central European nations above, we still welcome applications from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Greece and Serbia.


Donor

ERSTE Foundation

Main Objective

To foster quality reporting and create a strong alumni network devoted to promoting standards of excellence in journalisam across the region.


Specific Objectives

  • To produce 10 investigative or analytical articles with regional relevance
  • To raise professional capacities of journalists participating in the programme
  • To promote journalists and their work, securing public recognition for excellence in journalisam
  • To strengthen the existing alumni network


Main Activities

  • Training and mentoring for journalists
  • Research, production and publishing of quality content
  • Strengthening regional network of journalists
  • Promotion of programme findings through dissemination of articles through the network of media partners

Target Groups

Journalists


Main Implementer

BIRN Hub


Partners

Erste Foundation

Paper Trail to Better Governance III

BIRN Hub

Exposing wrongdoings of public institutions, public or private companies, and individuals, through multimedia investigations, in-depth analysis of institutions’ openness to freedom of information requests, and the establishment of an online database.

Summary

The Paper Trail for Better Governance is a project by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Kosovo and BIRN HUB – to promote the rule of law, accountability, and transparency in the Balkans.

It is the continuation of the Paper Trail for Better Governance I and II.


Donor

Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of the Austrian Development Cooperation

Main Objective

The Project is expected to contribute to better functioning of the public sector that abides by the principles of transparency and accountability to its citizens. This is expected to happen, on the one hand, by exerting direct pressure to key public institutions through exposing wrongdoings and their level of transparency practices in relation to FoI laws and on the other hand, by exerting indirect public pressure to key public institutions through raising awareness of the broader public about mismanagement of public resources and competencies.


Specific Objectives

Exposing wrongdoings of public institutions, public or private companies, and individuals, through multimedia investigations, in-depth analysis of institutions’ openness to freedom of information requests, and the establishment of an online database.


Main Activities

  1. Journalistic trainings, including on gender equality, internships for young journalists in BIRN offices.
  2. Production of 25 investigations, interviews, analysis and news pieces on cross-border and country-based issues, as well as video production.
  3. Production of Annual Regional Reviews on freedom of information.
  4. Upgrade and further development of the BIRN’s Investigative Resource Desk (BIRD)

Target Groups

The main target groups are male and female investigative journalists as well as young journalists, researchers, media outlets and the general public that will be exposed to published material resulting from investigative reporting, monitoring of public institutions compliance with legislation and annual review reports published.

Highlights

More than 200 journalists have been trained in investigative skills and given special, in-depth knowledge of the particular field they are researching. Through the extensive use of public documents, the investigations are exposing wrongdoing in government and public and private companies and among powerful individuals.

The project also addresses the transparency of public institutions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

As part of our drive to promote open data governance, earlier this year we established BIRN’s Investigative Resource Desk (BIRD), a digital platform with tools stimulating cross-border cooperation among journalists, civil society and technology experts. The platform serves as a hub for all BIRN data gathered through investigative journalistic work. BIRD also includes BIRN Source, a database which currently has close to one million searchable public documents uploaded and available for further use.


Main Implementer

BIRN Kosovo


Partners

BIRN Hub

Supporting Greater Media Independence in the Western Balkans

BIRN Hub

The aim of this project is to strengthen the editorial independence of the media, enabling them to provide citizens with a more diverse range of content, thus encouraging open, informed and active discussion amongst audiences in the six Western Balkans countries.

Summary

Supporting Greater Media Independence in the Western Balkans will support outlets to be more financially and structurally resilient, including improving gender quality in the workplace, and will enable them to produce more quality, relevant, gender-sensitive content that attracts and engages new audiences, including women, young people and marginalized groups. The project aims to achieve a level of relationships and standards in which media outlets and journalists report together with citizens, and not only about them.


Donor

FCO – CSSF

Main Objective

The project’s overall vision is to enable a positive shift in citizens’ engagement with independent media in the Western Balkans.


Specific Objectives

The aim of this project is to strengthen the editorial independence of the media, enabling them to provide citizens with a more diverse range of content, thus encouraging open, informed and active discussion amongst target audiences in the six Western Balkans countries.


Main Activities

The implementation of the Engaged Citizens Reporting (ECR) concept with the aim of enabling the production of quality, relevant, gender-sensitive content, which includes, inter alia, more diverse, representative (of different citizens/groups), gender-sensitive, conflict-sensitive, more informative, more scrutinised, facts-based content as well as encompassing standards such as the right to reply.

Training of young journalists with the aim to provide them with intensive learning and editorial support and mentoring in the field of investigative and quality journalism.

Series of legal, technical and organisational assistance and support, to strengthen the media and journalists of WB6 countries, help them become more professional, independent and effective in performing their duties. Only such empowered journalists and media can strive for quality journalism and restore public trust.

Target Groups

Local media outlets and journalists in the Western Balkan countries


Main Implementer

The British Council


Partners

Thomson Foundation, INTRAC.

COVID-19 in Serbia: Information Resilience

BIRN Serbia
In the current situation, there is a great demand for punctual, accurate and objective information among citizens. The crisis disclosed the negative impact of disinformation and its influence on spreading panic among citizens.

Summary

The COVID-19 global crisis reveals the need for and essential role of independent, objective journalism. Serbian society is additionally burdened by the fact that democratic institutions are weak and independent media are marginalized. The Serbian government introduced the state of emergency in an early stage to combat the crisis coronavirus caused. Yet, as much as this measure seemed justified to stop spreading the virus and protect the healthcare system, it opened a space for potential abuses.

In the current situation, there is a great demand for punctual, accurate and objective information among citizens. The crisis disclosed the negative impact of disinformation and its influence on spreading panic among citizens. In addition, the restrictive measures of the Serbian government demand public attention and serious journalistic work in order to keep them transparent and accountable and to prevent deterioration of democratic values and institutions once the crisis is over. Thus, BIRN will go beyond daily reports in order to offer in-depth analysis and data articles that can provide the context, analyze causes and consequences, as well as trends regarding the COVID – 19 crisis and its implications on the public services, work of institutions and society at large.

While mainstream media extensively cover the Covid-19 crisis through daily informative production there is a lack of analysis of the trends, wider context, and the effects of the pandemic on different aspects of our society. Furthermore, most of the media cover the cases and updates in major cities (Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, etc.) while the effects of the pandemic in smaller places are even more striking and are paradigmatic of the systemic response flaws. Lack of in-depth articles and relevant analysis causes the greater negative influence of fake news and disinformation hindering efforts to mitigate the consequences of the crisis. Society is dealing, with the pandemic, but also with infodemic, and the best course of the action is to rely on fact-based, reliable, and objective journalism.

Donors: The Balkan Trust for Democracy and USAID.

Information Sheet

Objective

Increasing the quality of media coverage and public understanding of the current COVID-19 crisis and its consequences.

Activities

1) Production (data and in-depth articles and journalistic reports on a daily basis);

2) Work with local journalists;

3) Online campaign.

Target Groups

Journalists, decision-makers, citizens

Promoting and Advancing Investigative Journalism in the Western Balkans

BIRN Kosovo

Promoting and Advancing Investigative Journalism in the Western Balkans and Strengthening the Capacity of the Organisation.

Information Sheet
Main Objective:

To promote and advance independent investigative journalism and to strengthen and enable information sharing among regional partners

Specific Objective:

  • Supporting transparency, accountability, and functionality of the system for public services in Kosovo with specific focus on courts;
  • Increasing accessibility of media and the civil society to decision-making processes regarding courts, public services, public administration, and public procurement;
  • Improving transparency and accountability of public procurement and tender awarding processes at the local and central level, namely municipalities and the ministerial level;
  • Encouraging transparency, accountability, and meritocracy in the public administration process with the special aim of fighting nepotism and party clientism within the public administration;
  • Providing valuable qualitative and quantitative data and reports to all stakeholders regarding the rule of law institutions, public services, public administration and public spending;
  • Reduce Kosovo’s barriers towards EU integration by disseminating data and reporting on the results from the monitoring process;
  • Increasing transparency and accountability of the Kosovo-Serbia Agreement implementation through establishing an effective mechanism for civil oversight over the process.

Main Activities:

  • Publishing written articles of issues on public administration, public procurement, and public services from the municipal debates during elections;
  • Publishing articles with the facts on the general situation in the Kosovo’s municipalities and local governance;
  • Publishing long articles regarding the Brussels dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia;
  • Monitoring public services.

Target Groups:

  • Public institutions;
  • Media Outlets;
  • Civil Society.

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Highlights

2,100 written articles covering issues of public administration, public procurement, and public services related to municipal debates organised during the electoral campaign, covering different promises and public statements delivered by public officials, also covering issues of public services and management of public funds 364 articles with fast facts published on a general overview of the situation in the municipalities and local governance of Kosovo.

79 long articles published related to the Brussels-faciliated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

Consortium: ‘For a Resilient Community’

BIRN Kosovo

The goal of this project is to contribute towards diminishing both motives and incentives for radicalisation, which can lead to violent extremism. Particularly important is institutions’ ability to empower young people and shape societal environment to successfully prevent violent extremism. This includes the social and economic inclusion of returnees, prisoners, and their families.

Donor:

The Global Community Engagement Resilience Fund (GCERF)

Summary:

The goal of this project is to contribute towards diminishing both motives and incentives for radicalisation, which can lead to violent extremism. This will be achieved by channeling public discourse towards building resilience to the phenomenon, and increasing accountability in public and governmental institutions, both local and national. Particularly important is institutions’ ability to empower young people and shape societal environment to successfully prevent violent extremism. This includes the social and economic inclusion of returnees, prisoners, and their families.

Main Objective:

The main objective of this project is to increase public understanding of violent extremism and to educate the public on relevant issues through proactive relations with the media. Informing the public of the project’s activities and results will also be crucial in order to promote the success of the project’s objectives.

Specific Objectives:

Specific Objective 1: Ensure that messages in public domain do not contain any unfavourable, inaccurate or outdated information which could have negative consequences;

Specific Objective 2: Strengthen the professional relationship between the project implementators and the media;

Specific Objective 3: Raise awareness within the broader community of the respective roles, responsibilities and activities of the project;

Specific Objective 4: Help shape attitudes so that the community at large can create a permissive environment for the successful prevention of violent extremism;

Specific Objective 5: Encourage public participation in the prevention of violent extremism and the process of building up resilience.

Main Activities:

  • Activity 1: Researching, producing and broadcasting five televised programmes focusing on returnees, prisoners and families affected by radicalisation and violent extremismActivity 2: Designing, producing and broadcasting/disseminating three Public Service Announcements that aim to inform the public on reintegration programmess, rights and responsibilities of returnees, prisoners and families affected by violent extremism and radicalisation, reaching an audience across the whole of Kosovo.

    Activity 3: Compiling, publishing and following up 10 articles related to returnees, prisoners and families of those affected by radicalisation and violent extremism. These will focus on living conditions, the stories of people who came back and so on.

    Activity 4: Designing, animating, producing, broadcasting/disseminating seven Public Service Announcements educating young people of various backgrounds on what they can do to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism, how they can combat this phenomenon and how they can contribute to educating their peers and community in becoming resilient to negative phenomena across all Kosovo.

    Activity 5: Researching, producing and broadcasting two televised programs on the role of young people in preventing radicalisation and fighting violent extremism.

    Activity 6: Organising five workshops for journalism and law students which will encourage them to discuss and report on the harm that the ideologies of violent extremism can cause. (Pristina, Ferizaj, Mitrovica, Gjilan, and Prizren)

    Activity 7: Conducting reporting training for Kosovo’s law students on media law, and legal protections against extremist actions in the media. Considering BIRN’s experience in investigative journalism and high-quality reporting, BIRN has the expertise and background to conduct such training sessions, where the trainees will be provided the opportunity to improve their reporting skills. (Ferizaj, Gjilan and Mitrovica)

    Activity 8: Organising training for Kosovo Press Council, the Independent Media Commission and investigative journalists and media editors on preventive measures for radicalization and violent extremism. (Pristina)

    Activity 9: Compiling, publishing and following up 10 articles related to violent extremism and on the harm its ideologies cause.

    Activity 10: Compiling, publishing and following up 10 articles related to youth engagement in decision-making and combating violent extremism. (Pristina)

    Activity 11: Researching, producing and broadcasting two televised programmes with themes focusing on the role of teachers and parents in preventing radicalisation and violent extremism, providing role models and showcasing positive examples.

    Activity 12: Compiling, publishing and following up on 10 articles that will address the role and responsiveness of public institutions to encourage and facilitate the engagement of parents and teachers in preventing radicalisation and violent extremism in Kosovo.

    Activity 13: Compiling, publishing and following up on 10 articles on institutions’ accountability for radicalisation and violent extremism.

Target Groups:

  • Family members of returnees and prisoners
  • Journalism and law students who will benefit from training workshops
  • Citizens and young people who will benefit from the PSAs, articles and televised content
  • Representatives of the Kosovo Government, the Kosovo Assembly, the Association of Kosovo Municipalities, civil society and the media
  • The Press Council of Kosovo, the Independent Media Commission, investigative journalists and media editors who will benefit from trainings

Main implementer:

ATRC – Advocacy Training and Resource Center

Partners:

BIRN Kosovo, Democracy +, KIPRED – Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development, KCBS – Kosovo Center for Business Support, SPRC – Security Policy Research Center

Promoting the Auditor General/NAO’s Role in Kosovo

BIRN Kosovo

The project aims to create incentives for both journalists and the general public to report on legal violations and possible misuses of authority during public procurement processes, including acts of corruption and money laundering. More efficient auditing mechanisms can help bring transparency and accountability, which in turn will help lower corruption and other violations that pose a hugerisk to the good governance.

Donor:

MATRA Programme, Royal Netherlands Embassy

Summary:

The project aims to create incentives for both journalists and the general public to report on legal violations and possible misuses of authority during public procurement processes, including acts of corruption and money laundering. Higher civic engagement is fundamental in promoting good governance, and a better understanding of Kosovo’s auditing institutions will help increase public support in their efforts towards accountability. More efficient auditing mechanisms can help bring transparency and accountability, which in turn will help lower corruption and other violations that pose a huge risk to the good governance. Increased public awareness about auditors’ roles and responsibilities when it comes to monitoring governmental processes goes hand in hand with efficient auditing.  As such, BIRN Kosovo is committed to empowering and encouraging civil society to engage in the process of democratisation together with the Auditor General and NAO.

Main Objective:

Increasing public oversight by promoting good governance through higher accountability and transparency in the decision-making processes in public spending.

Main Activities:

  • Activity 1 – Organise town hall conferences in municipalities to increase awareness of the role of civil society in promoting good governance;
  • Activity 2 – Deliver three one-to-one training sessions for the Auditor General/NAO staff to enhance cooperation with the general public;
  • Activity 3 Organise five TV debates on the role of the General Auditor/National Audit Office (three in Albanian and two in Serbian);
  • Activity 4 Launch the Annual Public Spending Award to recognise the best piece of media reporting that highlights violations and manipulations of authorities on public expenditure;
  • Activity 5 – Edit and publish analyses, investigations, and highlights from the findings of the audit reports;
  • Activity 6 – Organise training for new journalists and monitors to better tackle and monitor audit reports;
  • Activity 7 – Monitor court cases raised by the Auditor General

Target Groups:

  • Taxpayers;
  • Donors;
  • Local civil society and organisations;
  • Local media;
  • The Auditor General and NAO;
  • The general public.

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Partners:

ACDC – Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture

Solidifying the Resilience of Kosovo’s Current and Future Journalists

BIRN Kosovo

The project intends to restore trust in media and maintain news streams that provide objective, fact-checked and professional reporting by bringing together the wider community of journalists and media professionals, media outlets, civil society, young media talent and the public in order to increase awareness, recognition and support for professional journalism as a means of solidifying the foundations of a sustainable democracy in Kosovo.

Donor:

European Union Office in Kosovo

Summary:

The rapid growth of internet penetration in Kosovo has led to the establishment of many online media portals in recent years. While this presents a positive development in terms of media pluralism, the global proliferation of fake news online has taken its toll on the overall trust in the media. This applies in Kosovo too, having an impact on the local political life and social and personal lives of citizens as well. Apart from this, Kosovo politicians are found often to be sources and victims of fake news such as taking data out of context, or citing misinterpreted and incorrect information, which media routinely report without verifying.

In this regard, the project aims to bring a unique blend of experiences in leading successful reforms that foster watch-dog journalism, transparency, and accountability, rule of law, inclusivity, media excellence and innovation, values which remain at the core of Kosovo’s efforts to align with EU requirements. In this regard, the project partners aim to bring their tools and skills together to improve the quality of media content through the development of independent and professional journalism.

More specifically, the action aims to work with the public at large and teach the ways they can better detect and debunk misinformation throughout the media. The action will accomplish these initiatives and create synergies by tackling the issue of fake news and unverified reporting and by helping the journalists learning how to spot fake news and deliver verified information that adhere to journalistic standards. The action comes also in response to the need to restore the trust in media and maintain news streams that provide objective, fact-checked and professional reporting.

By exposing media that produce fake news, the expected outcome of the action is the improvement in the areas of media freedom, accuracy of information, quality programming, civil engagement, education and improved adherence with the Media Code of Conduct of the Press Council of Kosovo.

Thus, the project will contribute towards increasing the resilience of the media against external pressuring and bolstering the audience’s confidence towards media. Ensuring a strong emphasis on the media code of ethics, the project will also aim to create a media landscape that adheres to provisions and regulations, thus contributing to more professional journalism.

Main Objective:

The overall objective of the action is on the one hand to bring together the wider community of journalists and media professionals, media outlets, civil society, young media talent and on the other hand to increase the awareness, recognition and support of the public at large for professional journalism as a means of solidifying a sustainable democracy in Kosovo.

Specific Objectives:

Specific objective 1: Strengthen the capacities of media to conduct investigative journalism into the spending of public funds, monopolies in public contracts and corrupt practices in different institutions;

Specific objective 2: Promote fact-checking and document-based reporting standards with the aim of fighting breaches of the code of ethics in the media;

Specific objective 3: Promote human rights, inter-ethnic investigative teams and rule of law through meaningful and good quality programs, and

Specific objective 4: Engage young media talents in using creative filmmaking techniques leading to the creation of media content.

Main Activities:

  • Produce and broadcast in-depth investigative reports that will tackle a wide range of public interest issues such as: rule of law, accountability in the justice sector, mismanagement of public funds, local governance, labor law enforcement and organized crime;
  • Produce TV programs to discuss findings derived from the most challenging investigative reports produced as per Activity 1.1;

2.1 Launch an awareness raising campaign by producing Public Service Announcements on identifying and countering fake news;

2.2 Research, write, and publish forty (40) fact-checking analyses to identify fake news;

 2.3 Organize two-day intensive training workshops aimed at enhancing professional skills for early to mid-career journalists delivered by international experts to professional journalists as well as to students of journalism. The training will focus on tools to tackle disinformation, build fact-checking models for broadcasting and improve the work of multi-ethnic investigative teams of journalists;

3.1 Produce and broadcast TV programs promoting human rights, social issues, and the rule of law;

3.2 Produce documentaries about issues concerning minority communities in Kosovo;

3.3 Build capacities of Albanian journalists to report on topics in Northern Kosovo and Serb-majority areas by learning Serbian, and build capacities of Serbian journalists to be able to talk to sources in Albanian, by learning Albanian – an educational activity for media professionals that promote cultural diversity;

4.1 Organize filmmaking courses for youth in Kosovo who will produce video content that will be published on the new platform KallxoRinia;

4.2 Organize training sessions for high school students in a program that aims to nurture young media talents by mentoring them to produce about 50 videos and articles which push for solution driven journalism.

Target Groups:

  • Journalists and media outlets
  • Press Council of Kosovo
  • Youth, students and young entrepreneurs
  • Kosovo citizens
  • Marginalized groups
  • Members of the Independent Media Commission
  • Public institutions
  • Private sector

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Partners:

ÇOHU, International Press Institute – IPI, jCoders Academy, RTK, TV Mreža.

Under the Spotlight: Capital Investments Projects in Serbia

BIRN Serbia
Promoting institutional transparency and accountability through investigative reporting.

Summary

BIRN continues promoting government transparency and accountability through investigative reporting. BIRN Serbia will continue operating its flagship web platform Javno (Public, www.javno.rs), which currently hosts 20 databases that monitor public spending and the work of the judiciary. The watchdog’s searchable databases contain information such as court cases on tax evasion and money laundering, public procurements approved through emergency measures, subsidies distributed to media by local governments, and travel expenses incurred by government officials.

The project will also encourage other media organizations and relevant NGOs to utilize its databases for other investigative, research, and accountability initiatives.

Donor: National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

Information Sheet

Main Objective

Promoting institutional transparency and accountability through investigative reporting.

Activities

1) Production of investigative articles;

2) Creation of two databases on reconstruction projects for health care facilities, public schools, and energy companies in Serbia;

3) Production of a series of multimedia materials, such as videos and infographics, in order to make the investigative stories more appealing and understandable to the general public.

Target Groups

Local media journalists, state representatives, local-government representatives, public at large, CSOs representatives