Five years since it was established, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, has maintained its focus on issues surrounding war crime trials and facing up to the past.
Justice Report news agency remained the major activity of BIRN BiH, expanding its operations to include a weekly radio magazine and a monthly TV show. This week we will publish out 200 issue.
Our reports publicly raised questions and prompted debates about war crime trials, judicial reform and addressing the past.
The articles on Radovan Karadzic’s trial at The Hague, as well as interviews with some of the witnesses who will appear at his trial, which is due to begin next March, attracted much public attention. Justice Report will continue to report on this trial.
Among our other articles that drew local and international attention over the past year were those on the destruction of the personal documents of the victims of Srebrenica, which had been found in mass graves just after the war ended.
Justice Report found out that about 1,000 personal ID papers, photographs and other objects were destroyed in The Hague, because, it was officially announced, they represented “a health risk”.
We continued to give victims of war crimes a chance to speak out and be heard. We shall continue to do so. Judging by the reactions we have received, this service means a great deal to our readers.
“Information and reports on the trials conducted before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina are still of interest to the victims,” Saja Coric, a former detainee in Vojno detention camp, near Mostar, remarked.
“The news and reports I read each morning on the BIRN webpage, knowing they are correct, are important to me. Your reporters raised, followed and elaborated, in a professional manner, on many issues of interest to the victims,” Coric added.
The fact that well-known international human rights agencies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International cited our articles in their reports and research confirms the influence and reach of our reports and articles.
Marek Marczyński, a researcher with Amnesty International for the Balkan region, says he appreciates the work of Justice Report particularly because of the chance it gives to both victims and indictees to speak.
“The work of Justice Report meets the highest standards in journalism,” he said. “The information provided is always impartial and objective and easy to understand, even though many reports cover very specific legal issues.
“I much appreciate that apart from reporting strictly on what happened in the courtroom the voices of the survivors and the accused are also included; therefore the stories are well balanced,” Marczynski said.
Marczyński explained that our articles had also aided his research work, “because Justice Report is probably the most accessible source of information on war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“It’s very helpful for researchers and people working in human rights organizations and even more so for the survivors,” he said.
“In your reports you give a voice to the survivors and therefore acknowledge what happened to them. This is extremely important.”
The fact that our webpage, www.bim.ba, is visited by more and more people each year shows the level of interest the public takes in the issues covered by Justice Report.
This year, the number of visits increased to around 15,000 per month, up from around 10,000 last year which means the web page was visited more than 130,000 times over the year. More than half those hits were made by new readers.
According to our estimates, our audio reports now reach an audience of about 2 million via the 100 or so radio stations that broadcast them. We believe our TV production will enable information on war crime trials to reach even more people.
BIRN Justice Report could not have achieved this success without the support of numerous media stations that carried our reports daily. “We carry most of the articles pertaining to war crime trials. We do it almost every day,” Dejan Kozul, editor of the e-Novine web portal, based in Belgrade, confirmed.
“The articles are rather informative… Your analysis and investigative stories are excellent. They are perhaps even too objective considering the issues you write about,” Kozul added.
Zorana Petkovic, of Osvit radio from Zvornik in eastern Bosnia, considers the topics covered by BIRN “extremely important, particularly for our region”, adding that the reporting “directly from courtrooms” is objective, informative and useful.
Over the years we have worked with various media stations, including the daily newspapers Oslobodjenje and Dnevni Avaz, Hayat TV, TNT radio, Studio 88, Fena, Srna and ONASA news agencies, Radio Stari Grad, the public broadcasting service in Bosnia and Herzegovina and many others.
BIRN’s Radio Justice continued its activities during 2009. As of August, besides daily reports, it produced a weekly magazine on war crime trials. To date, our archives contain 20 ten-minute reportages.
In late 2009, BIRN Justice Report started broadcasting a monthly TV magazine, which can be watched at our web page, as well as via the network of TV stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
TV Justice will go to the courtrooms of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the local courts in the country, visit the crime locations and speak to the main actors in the entire process.
As in previous years, BIRN continued producing publications. This year we published History Overshadowed by Trivia – Regional Media Reports on Radovan Karadzic’s Arrest, containing analysis of the monitoring of media articles published in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia.
As part of the preparation of this publication, BIRN journalists analyzed more than 1,000 articles published in about 20 weekly and daily newspapers.
Next year, we plan to produce a publication on the five years both of our work and the work of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Comprehensive archives compiled by BIRN over the period will enable us to work on the publication, which will provide an overview of all the trials conducted before the War Crimes Chamber.
Besides reporting on war crimes, BIRN invested efforts in improving cooperation between the media and the judiciary by taking part in the Association of Court Reporters, AIS.
The most significant achievement in this field occurred early in September 2009, when a three-day conference on “Transparency of Courts and Responsibility of the Media” was organized by BIRN BiH.
More than 70 participants and more than 250 representatives of the media, judiciary, governmental and non-governmental organizations and individuals from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region discussed the transparency of the courts and the importance of objective and reliable reporting on crimes committed during the war.
Reports carried by the local and regional media confirm the significance and impact of this conference. After it closed, BIRN received numerous positive reactions from the conference participants. Sinisa Vazic, President of the Supreme Court of Serbia, described the conference as “extraordinary and very useful”, for example.
“BIRN has made a significant contribution to providing the public with information on the judiciary, as well as informing the public on and explaining complex processes of great moral, political and emotional importance,” Jan Braathu, ambassador of Norway – one of the donors of the conference and of the publication we issued – said after the conference.
Next year, BIRN BiH will start to implement a new project in collaboration with the USAID Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the local judiciary.
As part of “Local Judiciary under the Spotlight”, initiated in 2007, we will publish articles pertaining to war crime trials taking place before local courts. Within the same project, BIRN BiH will hold a number of training sessions for journalists over the next six months. At those training sessions, journalists will receive new skills relevant to court reporting and court processes.
Through this and other projects that BIRN intends to realize next year we hope to justify the trust that our readers have placed in us over the past period.
As in previous years, BIRN BiH was able to carry out its work thanks to the generous support from the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Soros Foundation, NED and USAID.