Meet the People Behind BIRN: Aleksandar Djordjevic

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Aleksandar Djordjevic has worked as a journalist since 2009, mainly covering politics and public finance.

Photo: Personal archive

He joined BIRN in February 2012. Since then he has mainly worked in the field of data journalism and investigative journalism, specialising in public finance reporting.

In 2016, he won first prize in the EU Investigative Journalism Awards for Serbia and an award for best investigative story in print media by the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists and the US embassy in Belgrade.

He was also awarded the best media report on monitoring of public spending in Serbia organized by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.

If he wasn’t a journalist, he would be doing some higher-paying but less stressful job. The only condition is that is not morally compromising in any way. Two stories that he worked on recently greatly impacted the wider Serbian public.

Let’s meet him!

  1. Why did you decide to become a journalist? What is it like working in BIRN?

I always wanted to know what was going on around me, questioning what was served as the truth. In this region, the official version of the truth rarely coincides with reality.

Unfortunately, we cannot be proud of our journalistic tradition in the Balkans.

As a child in the 1980s, I heard people arguing with the TV and disputing what they heard there, and with good reason. At that time, there was only one television station, and it did not report in the public’s interest but in one party’s interest.

In the 1990s, we got media pluralism but also the most brutal propaganda. In the noise of war, however, the first free media were born, which I eagerly listened to, read, and watched. That is perhaps the moment when my deeper connection with journalism was born, because I saw that even in the most difficult circumstances, it is possible to report objectively and truthfully.

To this day, in this region, and especially in Serbia, propaganda and the [ruling] party’s version of the truth have absolute dominance over objective journalism. BIRN is one of the few media organisations in this region that maintains professional standards and from which you can hear a version of the reality that is neither propaganda nor directed by interest groups. That’s why I’ve been working in BIRN for 12 years; here I have the freedom to work on stories that are important to the public, which you can’t hear on other media.

  1. A story that you and Gordana Andric worked on regarding how millions of euros for the vulnerable ended up in other people’s bank accounts (people close to the authorities or who are part of it) greatly impacted the country. Tell us about working on that story. What was the most challenging thing?

Behind this journalistic story stands a team of over 20 people who worked on it for four years. Of course, not every day, but starting in 2020, BIRN has been working, together with another non-governmental partner organisation, on a project monitoring state competitions grants.

During that time, the team collected data on 50,000 projects that the state financed with more than 180 million euros in competition grants. All these data are combined in one online database. It is a huge and important undertaking that BIRN has done in order to make the spending of this public money more transparent because the state does not have this data consolidated in one place.

But also in order for the non-governmental sector to be more efficient and spend this money for the general benefit. Imagine the effect on society of almost 200 million euros spent on social protection and improvement of environmental policy, which is what this money was primarily intended for.

Unfortunately, our research shows a significant part of this money was allocated to non-governmental organisations exclusively on a political basis.

BIRN published the first story on this topic two years ago. A month ago, a new story was published where the mechanism of misuse of state money, which was intended for the prevention of peer violence, was thoroughly dismantled and explained.

I think the public recognized our venture because the corrupt mechanism was presented to them in detail. They could also see the face of corruption. Principals of primary schools are shocked by the fact that the state gave more money for fictitious projects than the annual budget of their schools – while their schools have no money for heating.

  1. Another story was about Milan Radoicic’s involvement with marijuana labs in northern Kosovo. Tell us more about this.

Milan Radoičić is an example from the beginning of our story of how state propaganda misleads the public. He was presented in the state media and by state officials as one of the fighters for [Serb] national interests [in Kosovo].

BIRN, on the other hand, has published dozens of stories in the last couple of years in which it can be seen that Radoičić and Zvonko Veselinović are the opposite of that. The two of them have been labeled by international diplomatic organisations as part of an organised criminal group that is cooperating with the state ruling structure to enrich themselves at the expense of the public interest, not in favour of national interests.

You will not hear that version of the story on national frequencies; it is largely hidden from the Serbian public.

  1. What would you be working on, instead of journalism?

Some higher-paying but less stressful job. The only condition is that it is not morally compromising in any way.

  1. What is your advice to someone who wants to work as an investigative journalist in our region?

Arm yourself with patience. Investigative journalism is a marathon discipline, not a sprint. The strength and endurance necessary for a marathon are acquired through study, work and constant curiosity, and an open mind.

But curiosity must not turn into obsessive digging into the dark holes of other people’s inaction because over time, defeatism and cynicism will overwhelm you. That will have a negative impact on the quality of your work.

Curiosity must be directed towards learning new skills but also towards learning about values. Journalists are not there just to convey dry facts and information (soon artificial intelligence will do that), but to represent values. Only in this way will journalists maintain the capacity and strength to deal with the ever-increasing challenges of distorted values and disinformation.