Two BIRN stories won this year’s Investigative awards from the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia in the categories for print and on-line media.
“Secret of Vucic’s tavern” won the award in the print media category. BIRN Serbia journalist Jelena Veljkovic wrote on how Serbia’s Property Directorate claimed not to know that an exclusive restaurant had been opened in a part of the Belgrade Cooperative building, which the directorate had leased to the “Belgrade on water” company, refusing to answer whether it believed this use of public property was in accordance with the law.
A story by a group of journalists from BIRN and OCCRP, “Making a Killing: The 1.2 Billion Euro Arms Pipeline to Middle East”, meanwhile won the award in the online media category, along with a colleague from the Center for Investigative Journalism, CINS, whose story showed that the Governor of the National bank of Serbia plagiarized a significant part of her doctoral thesis.
The BIRN arms investigation revealed how thousands of assault rifles, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, and heavy machine guns have poured into the Middle East from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. The same story is also among three finalists for the Czech Journalism Prize, the best-known Czech media award.
This year, 75 journalists applied for the award given by the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, NUNS, and the US embassy in Serbia. The jury included Danica Vucenic, journalist from Insajder, Milorad Ivanovic, editor-in-chief of Newsweek Serbia, Predrag Blagojevic, editor-in-chief of online portal Juzne Vesti and Pedja Obradovic, producer at TV N1
On May 5th, 2017, BIRN Kosovo’s television programme Jeta ne Kosove and the anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com were awarded with second place for investigative journalism by the European Union Office in Kosovo.
The investigation that appealed to the five-member jury was “Organized Tax Fraud,” which revealed that over 300 Kosovo businesses were involved in a tax evasion scheme through the use of shell companies.
The three-part, 11-month investigation also revealed that the state prosecutor went after the shell companies, which had homeless and poverty-stricken people listed as owners, instead of the actual companies that benefitted from the scheme. After the affair was reported to the state prosecutor, he decided not to go after the businesses that were involved in tax evasion, and instead went after the vulnerable owners of the shell companies, who were unaware of the situation they were involved in.
Accepting the prize, Faik Ispahiu, the show’s producer and director of KALLXO.com, said that to this day the same prosecutor was handling the case, and instead of being punished, he was being rewarded with a trip to the US. The results of the investigation, Ispahiu said, are still ongoing.
This is the second time that Jeta ne Kosove has been awarded with a prize for investigative journalism by the European Union, after receiving an earlier award for the investigation into the “Stents Affair.” During the ceremony, Luigi Brusa, Head of Cooperation Section of the EU office, said that his organization is pleased to support people who support the principles of the European Union.
On April 28th, BIRN Kosovo delightfully ended the month of April by hosting two important diplomatic figures in Kosovo, the current U.S Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, and Atifete Jahjaga, who served as the fourth president of Kosovo.
In their separate discussions at the BIRN Kosovo office, Delawie and Jahjaga each emphasized that producing in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social issues in Kosovo is an absolute necessity. They declared their appreciation for BIRN’s commitment to fighting endemic corruptive behavior in the country. They also applauded BIRN’s success in conducting the annual report on the monitoring of Kosovo’s courts, in which BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova monitors tackled challenges and shortcomings in the justice system.
U.S. Ambassador Delawie expressed his concerns about the imbalanced judicial system in Kosovo, emphasizing the need to combat the partiality and injustices within the system. He went on to congratulate BIRN’s efforts to continuously conduct analysis on corruption within the judicial system in order to assess its performance in respecting legislation and adhering to work ethics and procedural regulations. The Ambassador said that BIRN Kosovo, by producing top-quality, timely, and relevant coverage, is a trendsetter in Kosovo’s media landscape.
Similarly, Jahjaga voiced her concern that Kosovo’s justice institutions infrequently address high-profile corruption cases and instead focus on processing petty corruptive cases, for which soft sentences are often delivered. She congratulated BIRN’s efforts to focus on the treatment of corruption charges, analyzing the problems and obstacles faced in the war against corruption. Jahjaga, the first woman to be president in Kosovo, said that though she is keeping her options open regarding her future plans, there is one particular issue she is certain about: she will continue to work for the survivors of wartime sexual violence, which during her five-year mandate remained one of her main priorities.
On May 8th, 2017, BIRN and Internews Kosova marked a decade of monitoring Kosovo’s judicial system with the launch of the 2016 Court Monitoring Report. This project has been implemented for ten years now, and each year it has provided an overview of the situation in Kosovo’s justice system and has offered recommendations on how to increase transparency and accountability at all levels of the system.
This year’s report reflects the monitoring of 600 court hearings across 26 courts in the country throughout 2016, including basic courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Panel participants included BIRN Kosovo Director Jeta Xharra, Internews Kosova Executive Director Faik Ispahiu, Chief Prosecutor Aleksandër Lumezi, as well as representatives from the Supreme Court, the Prosecutorial Council, and the Judicial Council.
The author of the report, Petrit Kryeziu, summarized the report’s main findings, including delays on filing criminal charges from the police and the prosecution, failures to justify decisions on pre-detention, and flaws in the strategy for detaining suspects awaiting trial. One of the report’s general recommendations is that Kosovo courts need to work harder on improving the way they treat pre-detention cases. Another recommendation is that the Ministry of Justice needs to consider strengthening the option for alternative sentences, such as referring appropriate cases to mediation.
The report also revealed concrete examples of procedural violations in the judicial system during 2016. These violations included cases in which the defendant’s right to be informed in the native language was denied, unnecessary postponements of court hearings, and lack of court order during trials.
Internews Kosova’s Executive Director Faik Ispahiu expressed gratitude to the entire team who contributed to the making of this project and emphasized that there have been over 50 monitors who worked on this project, some of which are now prosecutors, judges and lawyers. BIRN Kosovo’s Director Jeta Xharra added that despite the fact that the findings indicate room for courts to increase transparency, the ten-year collaboration shows that there is no rivalry between monitors and employees within the justice system.
Kosovo’s Chief Prosecutor Aleksandër Lumezi stated that he appreciates the findings and recommendations of the report and expressed his readiness to cooperate with the media. He emphasized that the flaws in the system will be improved upon and organized crime and corruption will be properly fought only through cooperation.
Please, click here to download report.
On April 24th, BIRN signed a cooperation agreement with the University of Prizren “Ukshin Hoti” in Kosovo on providing students with the opportunity to jumpstart their careers by embarking on professional internships at KALLXO.com, the anti-corruption platform.
BIRN has also offered numerous internship opportunities to the students of University of Prishtina, helping to advance students’ professional careers. Dozens of law and journalism students were provided with opportunities to pursue professional experience at KALLXO.com, with a focus on training students and helping them to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic, and social themes.
Through the cooperation agreement, law students will particularly benefit from such practical experience, during which they will be exposed to BIRN Kosovo’s methods of professional reporting, established to foster change in society while upholding accuracy, fairness and balance.
Since BIRN is engaged in court monitoring, which aims to reduce wrongdoings spotted within the judicial system, the students will be familiarized with the methods used to identify irregularities. According to the University’s rector, interning at KALLXO.com—as a bona fide source of objective, unbiased, and accurate information—provides an excellent opportunity for building the students’ personal and professional skills.
BIRN also strongly believes that these internships will equip students with the necessary skills to develop investigative, impartial, unbiased and publicly beneficial reporting in Kosovo. As BIRN is widely known for offering meaningful exposure to on-the-ground work experience, it plans to also provide students from other public universities across the country with similar internship opportunities, in order to expand students’ knowledge of the necessary skills to flourish in a diverse and multicultural work environment.
Mirna Buljugic, the director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH), participated in the ODIHR Trial Monitoring annual meeting in Skopje, Macedonia, at the end of April 2017.
The objective of the meeting was to share good practice and talk about challenges to trial monitoring around the world.
Buljugic presented BIRN BiH’s work at a session entitled Access to Information, talking about challenges journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina are facing trying to access audio and video material from court hearings, court files (indictments and verdicts) and interviews with legal professionals.
BIRN BiH’s campaign ‘Stop Censorship on War Crimes’ was shared as an example of good advocacy campaign that successfully encouraged people to put pressure on judicial institutions to change practices and rules forbidding the public from getting relevant information on war crime trials.
This year’s BIRN Summer School will be held in the stunning Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik from August 20-26.
The summer school will bring together some of the world’s best journalists and trainers for a six-day programme.
Reporters will have the opportunities to learn cutting-edge investigative skills and enjoy the delights of the Adriatic Sea.
Reuters editor Blake Morrison, three times a finalist for the Pulitzer investigative award, has been appointed lead trainer.
He will be joined by multiple-award-winning reporter/editor Miranda Patrucic from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Henk van Ess, an expert in Open Source Investigative Journalism, plus others.
During the sessions, journalists will learn how to dig for data, convince difficult sources to talk, transform their research into sparking prose and harness the power of video.
All participants will have the opportunity to apply for the Investigative Story Fund andthe three best story ideas will be awarded with funding ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 euros.
The location isMlini, a pretty fishing village located 10 kilometres south of Dubrovnik, the so-called ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’.
It offers a quiet setting with stunning beaches and excellent seafood, while Dubrovnik itself is internationally renowned for its fascinating history and breathtaking architecture.
Participants will have the chance to enjoy the idyllic surroundings while honing their investigative journalism skills.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania on April 26 presented its newly published national report, Local Government Under the Lens of Freedom of Information: A Comparative Monitoring of Transparency Indicators Online and On the Ground 2016-2017.
The report was published as part of BIRN Albania’s project Strengthening the Local Partnership between Media and Civil Society.
The project, funded by Leviz Albania and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, aims to strengthen the public’s pressure mechanisms on local government institutions and increase transparency by strengthening cooperation between journalists, civil society groups and grassroots organisations.
The report contains the results on the transparency of the 61 local government units in Albania, based on 50 indicators, evaluated in both 2016 and 2017, tracing the progress made by local municipalities in the implementation of the freedom of information and public consultation laws.
According to the monitoring data, these indicators were realised by 46 per cent of local municipalities in 2017, with the majority of the municipalities failing to realize half of the monitored indicators.
The figure represents a modest improvement of three per cent from 2016, when the transparency level was 43 per cent.
The new data collected through the report in 2017 shows that as in 2016, local municipalities in Albania are more transparent when it comes to the ‘freedom of information’ and ‘municipal councils’ category/indicator, and less transparent on a national level in ‘financial transparency’ and ‘legislation’.
The monitoring of municipalities for the report was carried out in February 2017 and June 2016 by a network of local journalists across Albania.
Click here for copy of the report in Albanian
Strengthening the media’s role in transparency of political party financing.
Durres, April 29-30, 2017
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Albania (BIRN Albania), as part of the project ‘Strengthening the media’s role in transparency of political party financing’ supported by the National Democratic Institute in Albania, will organize a two-day training session in investigative journalism techniques that help shed light in the field of political party financing in the country.
BIRN Albania is seeking 15 mid-career journalists from all the regions of Albania to attend the investigative journalism training workshop on April 29th-30th 2017, in Durres.
Introduction to the training:
The training serves to provide a guide to the basic methods and techniques of investigative journalism as well as an overview of the political parties’ finances in Albania. It aims to strengthen the skills and training of mid-career journalists to look closely at systemic issues of illicit financing of political parties and conflict of interest, with a special focus on the red flags raised by the reports filed in the Central Election Commission, CEC.
Who should attend:
The training targets mid-career journalists in Albania who are interested to deepen their knowledge of investigative journalism techniques and political party finances in Albania. Journalists from other regions outside Tirana are encouraged to apply. BIRN Albania will cover travel costs for all journalists participating in the training.
The outcome for participants will be:
1. Improved understanding of Albania’s political party finances;
2. Improved applied methods and techniques of investigative journalism.
Interested candidates must send a letter of interest to [email protected] Applications for this training close on Thursday, April 27th. Successful candidates will be informed shortly thereafter.
The journalists who take part in the training will participate in a competition from which BIRN Albania through an independent jury will select story ideas for five in-depth analyses related political party finances that will be funded from the project and published with the help of BIRN editors via the online publication Reporter.al.
The University of Prishtina has been plagued with scandals in recent years, leading BIRN to investigate the university’s practices. Through its television programme “Life in Kosovo,” BIRN presented its findings on suspicious promotion cases and dubious professorial publishing practices.
Responding to allegations that the University of Prishtina promoted academics with disregard to meritocratic criteria, Marjan Dema, the university’s current rector, shifts the blame to the Senate, explicitly declaring that the previously mentioned is under the Senate’s responsibility. Rozafa Koliqi, a whistleblower, revealed allegedly unjust promotion practices at the Faculty of Medicine on BIRN’s programme, declaring that she was unjustly rejected for the position of teaching assistant at this faculty. “Life in Kosovo” shed light onto the suspicious voting procedures of University of Prishtina senators, which failed to apply the highest standards for ensuring equality in the selection and promotion of academic staff.
A group of civil society organizations, including BIRN, sent a letter to Minister of Education Arsim Bajrami, explicitly displaying their concerns about academic integrity within the university and asking him to find a solution for the dire state of Kosovo’s higher education. Bajrami confronted these public concerns after a detailed investigation by “Life in Kosovo” and wrote a letter to Dema demanding that the University of Prishtina ensure the application of the highest academic principles and standards of transparency when selecting and promoting academic staff.
Representatives of the Organization for Increasing Quality in Education, ORCA, contributed to the topic by presenting its sobering findings from their report on the academic integrity of the managing staff, which claims that a high percentage of the university’s faculty published in fraudulent articles.
“Life in Kosovo” also hosted two European-Commissioned experts, Ian Smith and Tom Hamilton, who discussed high salaries and “vulgar corruption” within the university. The guests emphasized the crucial need to fight corruptive behavior in Kosovo’s higher education. Their own report came after the recent scandals involving unfair promotions, revealed by BIRN, at the University of Prishtina.