The Regional award was created and awarded for the first time this year with the goal of fostering collaboration and supporting stories with regional impact produced by journalists from different countries from the Western Balkans region and Türkiye.
The jury consisted of Brent Sadler, a multi-award-winning journalist, including a BAFTA for Gulf War coverage and an Overseas Press Club of America Award for reporting from South Lebanon, with 18 years of working experience in CNN; Janine Gibson, an editor of FT Weekend, and editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed UK and Deputy Editor of The Guardian, who oversaw Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks; and Marko Milosavljević, a well-known academic at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The first prize went the journalists from the Investigative Reporting Lab from North Macedonia – Sashka Cvetkovska, Elena Mitrevska Cuckovska, Maja Jovanovska and Trifun Sitnikovski – for their documentary Bad Blood, which shows the deadly effects of state-sponsored COVID profiteering. This made them double winners; they received the award for best story also on a national level in North Macedonia.
The second prize went to Dragan Stanimirović from Al Jazeera Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina, for his story “Battle for Neretva II and III”. This documentary series is about the Bosnian government’s plans to build hydropower plants in the Neretva basin and the struggle of activists and citizens to protect their rivers.
Third prize went to Sasa Dragojlo from Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, for “With Police Connections, Serbian-Syrian Translator Turned People-Smuggler”, a story about an organised criminal group that smuggled refugees and migrants of all nationalities, and illegally organised the crossing of the borders of Croatia, Bosnia and Hungary.
“I am really glad that I was awarded for this story. The investigation I conducted was highly demanding and long-lasting, while the scope of evidence was quite diversified – from video evidence, secretly taped audio recordings of criminals, to interviews with insiders in the people smuggling business and security officers,” Dragojlo said.
He said the fact it is a story about the fate of refugees and migrants makes the award even more important, emphasizing that due to global problems migration to Europe will likely not stop but increase in the future.
“Migrants are the most endangered category on the planet. They do not have a territory that they can consider their own, they are not in the system, they have no documents that show they belong somewhere, and they are left to the chaos ruled by violent smuggling gangs and corrupt policemen with a license to beat them,” Dragojlo concluded.
Sadler, as representative from the jury, announced the winners, while the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ambassador Johann Sattler, handed the certificates to the winners.
The EU Award for Investigative Journalism 2023 is part of the project “Strengthening Quality Journalism in Western Balkans and Türkiye II”. This aims to recognise and promote outstanding achievements in investigative journalism as well as improve the visibility of quality journalism in the Western Balkans and Türkiye.