EU Awards Presented for Best Investigative Journalism in North Macedonia

Winning stories tackled tragic fate of Balkan lynx, pandemic profiteers and over-employment in a government ministry.

The EU Awards for Investigative Journalism in 2021 for North Macedonia were presented on Wednesday at the Aleksandar Palace Hotel in Skopje.

“Investigative journalism is of great importance because it contributes to the protection of the public interest and demands accountability from those in power,” Julian Vasalo, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation in Skopje, said at the ceremony.

“Journalism as a profession has a responsible task to inform the public in an objective manner and at the same time to express the variety of viewpoints that appear in public and of course to demands accountability,” he added.

“Brave journalists are those who investigate in a brave manner and put questions that other do not dare to ask and in that way make their societies better,” he continued.

The jury, comprising jury head Marina Kostova and jury members Tamara Chausidis and Milica Saric, had a challenge evaluating the 13 shortlisted applications.

“While deciding, we were guided by given criteria that assess the relevance of the stories, their quality, originality and professional journalistic integrity,” Kostova said.

According to Kostova, the stories of the finalists are valuable documents that will stay as a resource for further investigations in their fields, but also pointed out that all the stories are independent journalistic efforts financed mainly by donations and not mainstream media.

First prize went to the young journalists of Radio MOF, comprising Jasmina Jakimova, Bojan Sasevski, Daniel Evrosimoski and Emilija Petreska, for their investigative story, “Following the Balkan Lynx’s Footsteps – an Investigative Story in Two Sequels”, which the jury called a product of outstanding research.

“It is disappointing that even after more than a year since we published the story, the institutions did not react to the discovery we literally gave them on a plate. What kind of future do we have in mind if we continue to destroy eco-systems, to destroy the living environment of the Balkan lynx and the natural heritage we have, and, by that, destroy ourselves,” Petreska from Radio MOF said.

She used the opportunity to send another “appeal to the institutions and the public not to allow the Balkan lynx to stay only on the five denar coin, but to preserve it in the mountains”.

Second prize went to the team from Investigative Reporting Lab – Macedonia, for a series of investigations into the medical equipment business in the wake of the pandemic, “Pandemic profiteering – The Other Side of the Covid-19 Story”.

“These investigations are a product of the whole team of IRL. I hope that this story will touch those in competence and that it changes something,” Aleksandra Denkovska from IRL said, after receiving the award.

Her colleague, David Ilievski, said the biggest prize for any investigative story is for it to contribute to significant change, but added: “Unfortunately, not a single one of these investigations brought the institutions to the point of doing something.”

Third prize went to, “Only 44 work, while 1,410 people receive salary”, an investigative series about the work of a government ministry, by Kristina Ozimec and Vlatko Stojanovski.

“This is first award for Pina, a small media house that works on investigative stories. It is also important that the story was produced in cooperation with other organizations like Samo prasaj and the Institute of communication Studies and that with small resources we succeeded in producing independent journalism,” Ozimec said.

Her colleague Stojanovski added that the story was dedicated to the Ministry of Political Systems and the way it functioned.

“The ministry served as a recruiting centre for employing staff for whom professionalism was not important, only their ethnic background, and which cost the state 100 million euros. I hope that we have contributed to resolving one problem,” Stojanovski said.

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 award for investigative journalism is awarded through the EU-funded project “Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey” in 2019, 2020, 2021 in the 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.

 

EU Awards for 2021 Announced in Turkey

Murat Ağırel, Hale Gönültaş, Volkan Nakiboğlu and Fevzi Kızılkoyun are the winners of this year’s EU Awards for Investigative Journalism, given for stories published in 2020 in Turkey.

This year’s winning investigations exposed a variety of malpractices in Turkey,  ranging from the mishandling of public funds to the infamous ties between a drug baron and a chief of police.

A total of 53 applicants submitted their stories uncovering wrongdoings and shedding light on issues of importance to the public.

Apart from the three stories that were given awards, two other stories received special recognition from the juries.

At the awards ceremony on June 29, the head of EU Delegation in Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, highlighted the importance of investigative journalism and of ensuring the safety of reporters.

“In the wake of the attack against an AFP photo-journalist, I state that according to EU values, violence against journalists cannot be tolerated. We are in need of journalism in this age of global disinformation,” Meyer-Landrut told the ceremony in Ankara.

The first prize went to journalist Murat Ağırel, whose series of stories featured how public funds are being misspent in a variety of areas such as health and education. Articles unearthed unlawful purchases and expenses as well as possible money-laundering.

Journalists Hale Gönültaş and Volkan Nakiboğlu got second prize for their stories Iranian Border: Between Bullets and Wolves, which exposed the inhumane conditions that immigrants face on the Iranian border as well as the cruelty of human traffickers.

Third prize was awarded to Fevzi Kızılkoyun for the story Prestigious Baron: Official Car Issued to Turkish Escobar,  which explained how a drug trafficker violated the curfew during the pandemic with the help of a chief of police.

“Today we are here to honour our colleagues who practise this profession by doing it justice. Journalism requires dedication, first and foremost to the public, then to the truth, knowledge, and objectivity,” said Yusuf Kanli, vice-president of the Association of Journalists.

Special recognition jury prizes went to the Hazal Ocak for the story Leak in the Bosphorus – Garden Rented for Only 258 Liras a Month, which showed how public spaces are being taken by top government officials. Ocak’s stories have been banned on the grounds that she has been “interfering with the fight against coronavirus” and she is facing 14 years in prison at an ongoing trial.

Another special recognition prize was awarded to İsa Örken for the story 14 Days as a Seasonal Worker, about the hardship faced by seasonal workers, their poor working conditions and how they try to get by on low salaries. Örken went undercover and worked alongside seasonal workers, documenting their working conditions.

The EU Award for Investigative Journalism is presented annually in six Western Balkan countries and Turkey for exceptional investigations published in the previous year.

Head of EU Delegation in Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut
President of the Association of Journalists, Nazmi Bilgin
Vice President of the Association of Journalist & Head of the Jury, Yusuf Kanli
First place prize: Murat Ağırel
Second place prize (co-authors): Hale Gönültaş and Volkan Nakiboğlu
Third place prize: Fevzi Kızılkoyun
Hazal Ocak
İsa Örken

BIRN Summer School Offers Investigative Reporting Training on Croatia Coast

BIRN’s flagship Summer School of Investigative Reporting returns for the 11th time in August, offering journalists a unique opportunity to learn investigative skills from award-winning trainers and journalists.

The Summer School of Investigative Reporting, which will be held this year in Croatia’s picturesque coastal village of Mlini from August 23-30, will again put together top journalists and editors for a week-long training programme.

Due to the global pandemic, BIRN has changed its usual programme in order to ensure that health and safety measures are respected. This year’s hybrid programme will include both online and offline sessions.

This year, BIRN is teaming up with journalists and trainers from Lighthouse Reports, an award-winning non-profit organisation based in the Netherlands which leads complex transnational investigations blending traditional journalistic methods with emerging techniques like open source intelligence and specialisms like data science.

For the first time this summer, applicants will have the chance to choose one of four course themes: Arms, Surveillance, Agriculture and Waste. Part of the training programme will be focused on the three themes that attract most interest from the participants.

In the mornings, participants will have joint sessions in hands-on investigative journalism skills, such as open source techniques, financial forensics and data journalism.

In the afternoon sessions, participants will be divided into three groups, depending on the theme they are following. Each group will have its lead trainers and will work with them on specific investigations, covering their group’s topic, applying the skills and techniques acquired during the morning sessions. Specific ideas and story angles, as well as the materials needed, will be prepared prior to the Summer School and participants will receive them during a briefing on the first day.

Work on the investigations is expected to be finalised during the Summer School, with only minor final work to be left for afterwards. Journalists from other media outlets are encouraged to co-publish the investigations originate at the Summer School.

The agenda and a detailed list of trainers will be published in the coming weeks.

We are providing 30 full scholarships for selected participants. This will cover accommodation, meals, as well as transportation expenses of up to 150 euros. Apart from the training, editorial support and mentorship, BIRN will, through our Investigative Initiative Fund, provide participants with fees.

Eligible participants include journalists who have experience in investigative reporting and who have covered the course theme they have chosen. Journalists from the following countries are eligible to apply: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Turkey.

Journalists who had previously participated in our Summer Schools are again eligible to apply.

Since the first Summer School in 2010, BIRN has trained more than 300 journalists from the Balkans and beyond, providing them with financial, editorial, mentorship and publication support. The participants, who are usually a mixture of experienced investigative journalists and those who have only a few years of experience in the field, are also provided with excellent opportunities for networking.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, there is a possibility that some trainers will not be able to come to Croatia, so they will join us online via Zoom. BIRN also aims to undertake all the necessary preventive and protection measures and will inform the participants of COVID-19 related rules and procedures. In case the offline setting is not possible, school will most likely take place online.

The application procedure includes sending a completed application form and CV as well as a sample of your work.

Applications close on July 7.

Click here to apply.

DATA PROTECTION INFO: Privacy notice

 

BIRN Launches Database of Mass Graves from Yugoslav Wars

‘Bitter Land’ is an interactive database of mass graves that aims to demonstrate the scale of the atrocities, ethnic cleansing and operations to cover up war crimes during the 1990s conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN on June 3 launched the first comprehensive, interactive database of mass graves from the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia, giving an unprecedented insight into the largest operations to cover up war crimes in Europe since World War II.

The Bitter Land database provides information in three languages (English, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and Albanian) on the location of mass graves from the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, including the number of victims identified after exhumations, archive reports and images, plus details of related court cases, witness testimonies and other resources.

It is being launched ahead of the final verdict on June 8 in the trial of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, who stands accused of bearing responsibility for some of the crimes that led to mass graves being dug during the Bosnian conflict.

BIRN’s aim is to present factual data in order to help counter the continuing selective denial of crimes and historical revisionism about the 1990s wars.

“One of the main focuses was to create a source of fact-based information and data on one of the biggest systematic cover-ups of war crimes in recent history,” said Nejra Mulaomerovic, who created the project with BIRN’s regional director, Marija Ristic.

“The database also represents an effort to foster the memorialisation process by providing a significant number of resources and using new technologies to capture current state of these sites,” she added.

The database highlights the lack of strategic memorialisation efforts by providing drone videos and photographs of the current condition of the locations, and in some cases 3D models of the sites, many of which are neglected an unmarked, with no signs indicating that they were wartime crime scenes.

The database is designed for use by journalists, researchers, students, civil society organisations and, most importantly, for the families of war victims with limited resources to access court records, archives and information related to clandestine graves in the region.

At the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, BIRN visited and documented more than 60 mass grave locations.

Most of the gravesites in the database are in unmarked fields, illegal garbage pits, next to public roads or on the property of private companies. In some cases, the sites were hidden as new housing was built around them.

Initial research for the launch of the database was based on the 42 largest mass graves in the former Yugoslavia that yielded more than 100 bodies. In the second phase of research, BIRN will map graves that contained between 50 and 100 bodies, while the third phase will map the remaining sites.

The biggest mass grave in the region was in Serbia, at a police training centre in the Belgrade neighbourhood of Batajnica, where 744 bodies of Kosovo Albanians were found.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the biggest gravesites were discovered around the towns of Zvornik, Srebrenica and Prijedor, where the bodies of Bosniak civilians were buried. One of the biggest gravesites in Croatia was discovered near Ovcara farm, near the town of Vukovar, where 200 bodies were found.

More than 130,000 people lost their lives as a consequence of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and 40,000 went missing. So far remains of around 28,000 people have been found in more than 1,500 clandestine gravesites, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, around 1,000 gravesites have been uncovered.

As sources for the database, BIRN used forensic reports from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, court testimony statements and archive satellite footage, as well as documents, research papers, testimonies and news archive footage from different sources.

BIRN also cross-referenced data from the ICTY, the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the International Commission on Missing Persons, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organisations that were involved in the process of exhuming and identifying the victims.

The database provides a wide-ranging insight into the killings and subsequent cover-up operations – many of which remain unpunished, more than two decades later.

For more information, see the Bitter Land site.

Reporting Democracy Identifies 7 Trends in COVID’s Lingering Effects

Trends Report highlights how symptoms of “Long COVID” in Central and Southeast Europe include assaults on transparency and media freedom, infectious disregard for the rule of law, and ideological entrenchment and polarisation.

Trends Report highlights how symptoms of “Long COVID” in Central and Southeast Europe include assaults on transparency and media freedom, infectious disregard for the rule of law, and ideological entrenchment and polarisation.

Governments in Central and Southeast are taking advantage of the pandemic to continue their assault on democratic values and the still-fragile system of checks and balances, Reporting Democracy, a cross-border journalistic platform run by BIRN, warns in its annual Trends Report published on Wednesday.

“While Long COVID symptoms in people include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain, and problems with memory; symptoms for countries in this region include assaults on transparency and media freedom, infectious disregard for the rule of law, ideological entrenchment and polarisation, and problems with memory,” the report, COVID’s Lingering Effects, says.

Marking the second year of the Reporting Democracy initiative, the report highlights the key “signals to watch” and “what to expect in 2021” as the political, economic and social consequences of the coronavirus crisis continue to unfold.

The report seeks to examine the political and social implications of the pandemic that has exacerbated some pre-existing trends, like assaults on media freedom and eroding of the rule of law, that were also covered in the inaugural edition of the Trends Report. It also identifies some new ones, including the vaccine dimension to disinformation, misinformation and propaganda; the return of rising poverty in the region, and the destruction of the cultural economy by COVID-19 and government partiality over the financial aid provided to it.

“The European Commission called the pandemic a ‘real-life stress test’ for our legal and constitutional systems – and in many regards they are failing. The Trends Report is part of our effort to unleash the power of independent journalism to explore the issues, trends and events that are shaping the future of democracy in Central and Southeast Europe,” Reporting Democracy Editor Nicholas Watson said.

The Trends Report streams from the regular coverage of the most important developments in the Visegrad region, provided by the Reporting Democracy correspondents, grants for in-depth features and investigations available to local journalists and the expert commentary from leaders in policy, civil society and academia.

 

Journalists Selected for BIRN’s Digital Rights Programme

The winning applications have been selected for BIRN’s first digital rights oriented programme – which aims to explore the effects of digitalisation processes and the challenges facing digital rights.

Twelve journalists from Albania, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia and Turkey have been selected to participate in BIRN’s first Digital Rights Programme for Journalists, covering concerns over digital rights trends in Southeastern and Central Europe.

The programme awards bursaries to individuals and teams of journalists who will explore topics such as censorship on social platforms, the effect of online video games on dominant narratives, digital political interference, cyber violence against women, 5g infrastructures, surveillance and algorithmic decision-making processes.

For the duration of the course, the journalists will be provided with comprehensive editorial and writing skills training, and be given a chance to meet some of the most important European CSOs working on their topics of interest. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the whole programme will be held online.

The digital rights programme focuses on the continuous monitoring of digital rights violations in eight countries, the production of compiling content and cross-sectorial networking.

By combining strengthening accurate reporting with promotion of basic human rights standards and an understanding of the fast-evolving technology, the programme strives to contribute to a healthier digital ecosystem for everyone.

The Digital Rights Programme development is supported by Civitates, Sida, ERSTE Foundation and by European Artificial Intelligence Fund.

Ivana Drakic Brkan

Based in Sarajevo, Ivana assists with implementation of BIRN Hub’s programmes and provides day-to-day management of the monitoring and evaluation activities related to them, including working with programme staff, external consultants, implementing partners and key stakeholders.

Previously, Ivana worked for more than 10 years in the NGO sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. She managed different programmes and projects throughout the entire business cycle, from project planning and writing, implementation of activities to reporting to different donors. She managed several regional projects, and is also proficient in research and
monitoring activities, social media and financial management of projects.

Ivana is a political scientist, and graduated from the University of Montenegro in Podgorica. During her undergraduate studies, she spent one year studying in the USA on a USAID/World Learning exchange program. She is currently enrolled in a Master studies at the Faculty of
Economy in Podgorica. Besides speaking BHS languages, she is fluent in English, and knows Spanish and French.

BIRN Launches Balkan Terrorism and Foreign Fighters Database

BIRN’s unique new database includes court verdicts handed down in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia for domestic terrorism and for going abroad to fight in the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

The Terrorism and Foreign Fighters Database, which was launched on Friday by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, contains comprehensive information about court verdicts for domestic terrorism in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

It also includes verdicts from the trials of people accused of going abroad to fight for the so-called Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria and for pro-Russian separatist forces in the conflict in Ukraine.

The database utilises BIRN’s extensive experience of covering terrorism trials in the Western Balkans and includes photographs and videos as well as a resource centre that offers video explainers and PDF booklets on how to report on violent extremism and terrorism.

BIRN’s regional director Marija Ristic said the database is the result of the BIRN network’s long-term reporting efforts and knowledge.

“We wanted to make a relevant source of data about regional terrorism for journalists and researchers, but also for all those interested in the topic. In addition to the data, which has been checked, we also wanted to share BIRN’s knowledge and experience in reporting on these topics,” Ristic said.

The verdicts in the database cover the period from 2007 to the end of 2020.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has convicted the highest number of people in the region for domestic terrorism, a total of 14. North Macedonia has convicted the second-largest amount, finding 11 terrorism defendants guilty.

Bosnia has also has convicted the highest number of people in the region for going to fight in Syria, a total of 28. North Macedonia has convicted 18 individuals and Albania has found nine guilty.

Serbia has prosecuted the highest number of people for going to fight in Ukraine. Serbian courts convicted 16 people but all the trials ended in plea bargains and suspended sentences.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s director Denis Dzidic said that the database contains data about the duration of sentences, the text of court judgments and data about the criminal records of terrorism defendants.

“It is important to emphasise that the database is free and accessible to everyone. It is searchable. We have made a special effort to link the important information, such as previous convictions or other ties between individuals who have stood trial,” Dzidic said.

The database’s resource centre includes videos and a detailed webinar about professional journalistic coverage of terrorism, along with BIRN’s suggestions for external resources that could help improve media reporting.

NOTE: The database was created with financial support from the European Union and Hedayah, the Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism. It can be accessed here.

 

Open Call for Stories from Montenegro

Do you have an idea for a big story in the public interest? Do you want to explore topics relevant for Montenegro and the EU integration process? Do you want to conduct your story to the highest standards, with training and a quality editorial mentoring from the country and the region that let you explore your subject in depth? Would you like your story to be published in the region, translated into English and to reach wider public?

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, now is the time to submit your ideas for investigative articles in the public interest related to the EU integration process. The candidates with the best proposals will undergo a training, which will be held in Montenegro at the end of April 2021.

The training will be followed by a selection process. Three candidates with the best ideas, journalistic skills and knowledge will implement their investigative projects, with a close supervision and mentoring of the editorial team from the country and the region.

After completion of the investigation, all stories will be published at the websites of CIN-CG and BIRN, as well as in a special bilingual publication and e-book.

All journalists from Montenegro who have interest and experience in investigative journalism are eligible to apply. Apart from the training, mentoring and editorial support, the selected applicants will receive € 1,000 bursary for their stories (reduced by approximately 9% tax).

Applications should be submitted by March 26th, 2021 to: konkurscincg@gmail.com and to assistantcincg@gmail.com. The application form is available online HERE.

Should you have any additional questions, please send them to: konkurscincg@gmail.com or assistantcincg@gmail.com.

Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence 2021: Transformation

The Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence is opening its 2021 call for applications.

The programme, now in its 15th year, provides a 3,000-euro bursary and sustained editorial support to journalists seeking to report in depth on the forces shaping societies and democracies across 14 countries in Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe. The Fellowship emphasises strong storytelling and rigorous, on-the-ground reporting – skills traditionally associated with the best magazine journalism.

The deadline for this year’s entries is 9 April 2021. As usual, applications are solicited under an annual theme. This year’s theme is Transformation. Fellowship editor Neil Arun said the theme gave journalists “a chance to pitch a story that probed the changes that had been set in motion, or that had gathered pace, over the past year.”

The annual selection of 10 journalist Fellows is made by an independent committee. The Fellows are mentored by the programme editor in the course of their reporting, and can also draw on the support of BIRN’s regional network of journalists. In addition to financial and editorial support, the Fellowship offers:

  • The chance to participate in an introductory seminar focused on reporting and storytelling techniques
  • The chance to win additional awards, worth between 3.000 and 1.000 euros, for the three best stories
  • Publication of finished stories in regional languages and in English, through BIRN’s network of media partners
  • Membership of the Fellowship alumni network, designed to support networking between journalists who have participated in the programme

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and ERSTE Foundation set up the Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence in 2007.

Since then, more than 140 journalists from 14 countries in Central, Eastern and Southeast Europe have taken part in the Fellowship’s world-class programme for professional development.

Since 2020, the Fellowship has been accepting applications from journalists in the Visegrad group of countries, as well as from the Balkans.

Applications can be made by downloading the official form. Journalists who wish to maximise their chances of a successful application can read these tips from our editors and check out the latest stories on the Fellowship homepage

For more information, please contact us on fellowship@birn.eu.com