EU Investigative Journalism Awards Announced in Kosovo

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The jury awarded four journalists for “uncovering previously unexplored areas”, stressing that investigative journalism is of great importance for Kosovo and a wider region.

The EU Awards for Investigative Journalism for Kosovo were presented on Monday, December 21, 2020, in an online event on Zoom. The four announced winners were awarded a total of 10,000 euros for stories published throughout 2019.

Their stories reported on the corrupt practices of the Kosovo government, on important environmental issues in the country, and shed more light on children born from wartime rape in the country.

The head of the EU delegation to Kosovo, Tomáš Szunyog, said all the awarded stories “were very interesting and covered some of the most pressing issues of the Kosovo society.

“Free, diverse and independent media are essential in any democratic society and are key to ensuring an informed and engaged citizenship. In order to achieve that, journalists should be able to exercise their function freely,” the ambassador added.

The jury was composed of chairman Xhelal Neziri, an experienced journalist skilled in broadcasting, storytelling, investigative reporting, news writing, and documentaries; Ervin Qafmolla, a Tirana-based journalist and communication specialist who leads the fact-checking unit at A2 CNN in Tirana; and Sefer Tahiri, a journalist with 15 years of experience who currently serves as a professor at the South East European University in Tetovo, North Macedonia.

Neziri, Qafmolla and Tahiri said they had a hard task choosing between the 14 shortlisted applications. Addressing the public, Neziri said evaluating the applications was “an honour both for myself and other members of the jury.

“Almost all [submitted stories] focused on important issues and uncovered previously unexplored areas that were interesting to read and learn about,” Neziri added.

He also added that the importance of investigative journalism in Kosovo and the region was huge, and requires “commitment, time, skills, and money.” He continued: “Democracy functions in the countries where citizens are well-informed.”

First award went to Serbeze Haxhiaj who works for Radio Television of Kosovo, RTK, and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network BIRN, for her investigation “Kosovo’s Invisible Children: The Secret Legacy of Wartime Rape.” This story for the first time revealed facts of concrete cases of children born from rape during the independence war in Kosovo.

More than two decades after the independence war, due to the stigma and prejudice against victims of sexual violence, it is still hard for rape survivors to speak publicly about children born as a result of rape. The negative perception of these women in the patriarchal environment of Kosovo has led in some cases victims to commit suicide.

The article provides evidence of how, because of the stigma that makes mothers feel ashamed to tell the truth, children born to rape by Serbian forces during the war in Kosovo have been kept secret, abandoned, given up for adoption or dumped in orphanages. In some cases, they even drowned. The few women who decided to keep these children a secret and raised them remain fearful of public exposure.

Haxhiaj said the award was an honour for her and an act of homage to the victims of sexual violence. “We are still seeing the consequences for these children that are invisible, and women who have survived sexual violence still fear being exposed,” she told the ceremony.

Second prize went to Leonida Molliqaj, a journalist and founder of the Center for Information, Criticism and Action, QIKA, through which a new media platform is being created where, for the first time in Kosovo, journalistic research will focus on gender equality.

Her piece, “Lack of food security in Kosovo threatens public health”, is the first research of its kind to provide readers with an accurate picture of the food security situation in Kosovo. Despite the legal regulations, the research highlighted violations of the right of access to safe food for the citizens of Kosovo, which is a result of the negligence of institutions.

The purpose of the research was to show the risk to public health that arises from the lack of proper control of food safety, as well as the accountability of the institutional chain for the damages caused.

Kreshnik Gashi and Afërdita Fejzullahu of BIRN Kosovo were awarded third place for their story, “Network of AAK family companies, concrete the highway Prishtina-Gjilan.”

This revealed the research of the BIRN TV show Justice in Kosovo, which explained how the family company of the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Rexhep Kadriu, was involved in the construction of the Prishtina-Gjilan highway, for which about 66 million euros are earmarked. The investigation has caused a great deal of controversy and the Kosovo Special Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation to uncover conflicts of interest in this activity. The case was recently entered in the register of targeted cases in the Special Prosecution.

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 prizes are 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 awards in Bosnia and Herzegovina are coordinated by Balkan Investigative Regional Reporting Network, BIRN Hub, which also runs a regional consortium.