Open Call: Third Cycle of the Digital Rights Programme for Journalists

Journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo are invited to apply for the third edition of BIRN’s Digital Rights Programme, which seeks to analyse threats to digital rights and freedoms and to document, explore and communicate to the wider public the abuses of digital tools to undermine democracy and human rights.

BIRN is looking for people who want to create engaging and informative content focusing on technology and the opportunities and challenges it poses to democracy and human rights, in particular:

  • Freedom of expression,
  • COVID-related tech regulations,
  • Content blocking and removal,
  • Artificial intelligence, machine-learning and algorithmic decision-making processes,
  • Transparency of processes of digital transformation in the region,
  • Hate speech and discrimination in the digital environment,
  • Gender issues,
  • LGBTI+ issues,
  • Digital security and phishing campaigns,
  • Privacy and data protection,
  • Surveillance practices,
  • Accountability of the major internet platforms and online safety of users,
  • Information security,
  • Disinformation and misinformation,
  • 5G technology in the region,
  • Cryptocurrencies/blockchain,
  • Social media bots and troll farms.

BIRN offers a comprehensive six-month programme for all accepted applications, which includes:

  • Financial support ($1,325 gross),
  • Regular networking opportunities,
  • Meetings with relevant stakeholders dealing with digital transformation challenges and freedom of expression,
  • On-the-job mentoring and editorial sessions to produce high-quality journalism and educational sessions focused on digital security for media.

Support is available for professional freelance or staff journalists to cover local, national and cross-border topics. The stories produced under the programme will be published by Balkan Insight and by prominent European, regional and international media outlets.

Click here to apply for the programme.

The call is open until October 31, 2022.

Who can apply?

The programme is open to all journalists who believe they have a good story concerning the health of the digital ecosystem in the Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo . We also welcome applications from staff reporters from local and national media who wish to co-publish the story with us.

Formal applicants can be:

  • Individual journalists (working as part of newsroom structures or as freelancers),
  • Teams (eg. reporter, producer, photographer, video editor) with a designated team leader as the contract signatory.

BIRN is committed to gender diversity and freedom from prejudice on any grounds.

Story requirements

  • The story must focus on at least one of the topics listed above,
  • It must be relevant and current to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo ,
  • Stories that cover more than one country will be given an advantage,
  • Only in-depth, investigative stories will be taken into account,
  • Each story should be around 2,000 words long,
  • Each selected story must be published within six months of receipt of the first instalment.

How to apply?

Fill out the application form and follow the instructions.

Attach the signed declaration document.

Evaluation and selection:

Step I: Technical evaluation will be carried out by BIRN staff to ensure the applicants have followed application procedures and submitted all the required documents.

Step II: Evaluation will be carried out by the editorial board to select applicants based on the evaluation criteria, including:

  • Quality of the proposed idea,
  • Feasibility of the proposed plan,
  • Ability to reach the general public,
  • Relevance of the proposed idea.

Step III: Notification of applicants.

For additional information, please contact [email protected]

The Digital Rights Programme for Journalists is made possible through support from the UN Democracy Fund, Internews and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

BIRN, n-ost, Hold Workshop in Ohrid on Environmental and Climate Reporting

BIRN Hub and partner organization n-ost held a workshop from September 20-23 in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on cross-border environmental and climate reporting for 18 journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Over three days, participants learned from trainers Besar Likmeta and Dragan Gmizic how to form teams and investigate environmental issues in their countries.

The trainers shared what it takes to establish a research team, publish and follow up on your investigation.

“When you investigate and publish about sensitive issues, for example on some public officials breaking the law, it’s better to have a network of journalists standing behind you,” said Likmeta, on the importance of cross-border journalism.

On the second day of the workshop, the participants learned more about climate journalism from guest lecturer Angelina Davydova. “Climate journalism is complicated, but allows for international cooperation, cross-border reporting and many training opportunities,” Davydova said. Participants then discussed how to address climate change in stories they’re interested in.

Finally, participants discussed local environmental issues related to nearby Lake Ohrid with Vladimir Trajanovski, from SOS Ohrid, a citizens’ initiative, which is active in protecting the area and its environment.

“Investigative journalists in North Macedonia helped us a lot by writing in their way about topics we pointed out to them, and had a crucial role in exposing problems,” Trajanovski said.

At the end of the workshop, participants formed cross-border research teams and will work on stories in the next two months until they gather again.

This was a first workshop organized as part of the project entitled Going Environmental, which is financed by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.

 

 

Open Call: BIRN is Seeking Data/Business Journalists

As part of its new project focusing on Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, in the Balkans, South Caucasus and Central Asia, BIRN is looking for journalists with strong competence in economic issues and experience in data editing and data journalism.

Reporters with experience in data and business journalism from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia are strongly encouraged to submit their applications no later than October 14, 2022.

Selected candidates will be working on “Spheres of Influence Uncovered”, a joint project by the Berlin-based media NGO n-ost, BIRN, the cross-Caucasus media outlet JAMnews and an online media outlet from Uzbekistan, Anhor.uz. Its primary focus is mapping and exploring FDI in the Balkans and Central Asia.

BIRN is looking both for freelancers and permanent employees of national and local media and private and state-owned outlets/public broadcasters. Experience in different media formats is preferable, and experience in business and data journalism is a must.

As the project language is English, aspiring candidates must have good oral and written proficiency in English.

During the timeline of the project, from 2022 to 2025, several training sessions and other networking activities will take place in the Balkans and Central Asia, which all participating journalists will have to attend. The first, a kick-off meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, will take place in mid-November 2022, most likely on November 11-13. Details will follow in the next few weeks.

Journalists will be researching FDI in their respective countries in a specified timeframe. Most FDI come from three key players – the EU, China and Russia, competing for influence in both regions. Information that journalists collect will form the basis for an online interactive map and a database, which is intended to shed more light on key investment projects and inform the general public in the project countries, but also beyond, about the consequences, criticisms and challenges these investments have provoked.

Selected participants also will attend a series of offline training sessions to boost their data, investigative and journalism skills: to learn how to properly fact-check a story; how to protect themselves in a digital surrounding; and learn more about specific directives and laws that China and Russia often violate. A special focus of the project is fostering cross-border cooperation and transnational and transregional networking of data and investigative journalists.

Last but not least, participants will produce a series of investigations and long-read articles, using the database and interactive map as a starting point and source of information.

Selected candidates will benefit from:

  • taking part in a long-lasting journalistic project with enough time and resources to work on complex topics
  • boosting their cross-border skills and working closely with colleagues from different regions
  • the opportunity to expand and deepen their knowledge of their economic and (geo)political context and the consequences of investment and credit projects with foreign partner countries
  • the opportunity to improve their journalistic skills with a view to investigative research, data journalism, and processing complex issues and large amounts of data
  • gaining experience in building and using an international database on international economic cooperation and investment projects
  • financial support for innovative and complex publication projects
  • integration into an international journalistic network whose members benefit from one another through shared journalistic interests and mutually complementary skills

The project will consist of a number of online and offline activities during the next three-and-a-half years, which all selected participants will have to attend, which include traveling. Below is a preliminary list that will be defined further in the next weeks and months:

  • A kick-off meeting in Tbilisi in mid-November 2022
  • December 2022: one of the two training sessions, each lasting two-and-a-half days, in Belgrade (Serbo-Croatian/English) and in Tashkent (Russian)
  • Spring 2023: Joint training for three-and-a-half days (English) in Tbilisi, on data collection
  • Autumn 2023: Joint training for three-and-a-half days (English) in Podgorica, Montenegro, for the preparation and presentation of data – storytelling, infographics, video editing, social media production.
  • Spring 2024: (a) a two-day in-depth training course in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on how to use the database for the project participants; (b) a two-and-a-half-day work meeting for the participants with an extended group of experts and (business) journalists (25 project participants + 25 others)
  • Work on the database
  • Production of country-based and cross-border long reads and investigative reports

The project, which started on September 15 and lasts until December 31, 2025, includes the following countries: Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Other partners on the project include the lead partner n-ost, from Germany, Anhor.uz, from Uzbekistan and JAMnews (headquartered in Tbilisi).

Click here to apply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEPS Quiz Commission on BIRN-Solomon Report on Greek Surveillance Systems

MEPs have submitted tough questions to the European Commission about BIRN’s and Solomon’s report on EU-funded surveillance systems deployed in reception areas in Greece.

Members of the European Parliament sent written questions to the European Commission on September 16 about the EU-funded “Centaur” and “Hyperion” surveillance systems deployed in reception areas in Greece. Their questions came after BIRN and Greek investigative outlet Solomon published a joint investigation on this on September 9.

BIRN and Solomon revealed in “Asylum Surveillance Systems Launched in Greece without Data Safeguards” that the “Centaur” and “Hyperion” systems were crafted and initially implemented with funds from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility – without prior recruitment of a Data Protection Officer at the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, a requirement under the GDPR, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, to ensure adequate oversight.

Nor were mandatory Data Protection Impact Assessments, DPIA, conducted in the design phase.

Tineke Strik, a member of the Group of the Greens, one of the eight MEPs who signed the questions to the Commission, published it yesterday on her Twitter account.

“EU funding of surveillance technology used on migrants in violation of fundamental rights must stop,” Strik said.

The MEPs asked the Commission how much money the EU spent on the two surveillance systems, from which funds this came, and how much funding has been or will be provided for similar systems.

BIRN and Solomon established that the planning of Hyperion and Centaur began in 2020. The Hyperion system monitors movement in and out of state-run asylum camps. Centaur deploys behavioral analysis algorithms and transmits CCTV and drone footage to a control room inside the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum.

Humanitarian organisations say the two surveillance systems violate asylum seekers’ fundamental rights and freedoms.

The MEPs said the Greek government was clearly unwilling or unable to conduct an “independent investigation” following allegations of non-compliant expenditure of EU funds in violation of fundamental rights.

“What is the Commission’s assessment of compliance with fundamental rights, and how is the Commission investigating this?” they asked.

“Is the Commission taking action to reject cost reimbursement or retract funding for the Centaur and Hyperion projects? What measures are being taken to prevent future EU-funding of projects in violation of fundamental rights?” they added.

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Karla Juničić

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For September, meet Karla Juničić, Engagement Editor and Coordinator at Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Karla is from Croatia and is based in the United Kingdom. She studied literature and philosophy and political sciences. She has been working as a journalist for five years, starting her career reporting on international affairs and global events.

Karla joined BIRN in October 2021, leading our Engagement Journalism programme; BIRN has developed a tool whereby media outlets can engage readers in their investigative reporting.

“The biggest challenge remains restoring faith in the media in the age when audiences are vulnerable to disinformation. Engagement journalism can be a solution because it allows audiences to be active participants in making the news,” Karla says.

BIRN participates in the Media Innovation Europe and within this context has launched a call for Audience-Engaged Journalism.

As she introduces BIRN’s new initiative, let’s meet her.

 

  1. What do you like most in your job and what is the most challenging thing?

Joining BIRN in October 2021 on a project of engagement journalism has taught me that, by listening to the audience, significant stories can be made that will have a visible impact and promote positive change in local communities. Audiences can use their power to report on issues that matter to them, and the journalist can serve as a facilitator who will factcheck their input, write about their concerns and influence other people or authorities to act upon them. People will relate easier to an issue of local concern. Often it is the local perspective or event that will draw national and even international interest.

The biggest challenge remains to restore faith in media in the age when the audience is vulnerable to disinformation. Engagement journalism can be a solution because it allows audiences to be active participants in making the news. People today want to be heard, and want to be listened to, which is obvious from a simple glance through social media. At the same time, local media need to be empowered to become independent and financially resilient, to offer trustworthy information in a complex media environment.

  1. BIRN participates in the Media Innovation Europe consortium of the International Press Institute, Thomson Foundation and Media Development Foundation. Tell us more about this initiative and its main scope

Launched on June 1, 2022, Media Innovation Europe is an exciting new initiative run by the International Press Institute, Thompson Foundation, the Media Development Foundation and BIRN. The main idea is to bring innovation to newsrooms, build stronger business models and foster collaboration among media outlets from 35 European countries; besides EU member states, this means Balkan countries, Moldova and Ukraine.

  1. Within the context of Media Innovation Europe, BIRN is launching the Audience-Engaged Journalism call. Tell us about this.

BIRN has developed a tool which enables journalists to crowdsource information on topics of citizens’ interest and engage audience in reporting. Within the project Media innovation Europe, BIRN will offer Audience-Engaged Journalism grants to expand tool usage and train journalist to implement audience engagement journalism. Grants of up to €10,000 will be offered to journalists in 10 Visegrad and Balkan countries to develop investigative in-depth stories by engaging citizens in reporting. The call, which is open until October 28, invites journalists to send in story proposals. Journalists can choose to work on collaborative cross-border stories or on their own individual story. The most interesting proposals, which demonstrate commitment to engage citizens from diverse communities and develop investigative stories will be selected by an international independent jury and receive the funding.

  1. Since December 2020, 51 media outlets from six Balkan countries have used BIRN’s Engaged Citizens Reporting ECR tool and produced investigative stories based on surveys, polls, and questionnaires. Can you select a story that made a difference and impacted the local community?

BIRN’s tool to engage citizens in reporting has been pilot-tested since 2020 and 51 media outlets from Balkans has implemented it. BIRN offered training and mentoring for journalists on how to make engagement stories within the Supporting Greater Media Independence in the Western Balkans project. Many interesting stories made an impact, so it is hard to pick just one. It was inspiring to see how some stories initiated local environmental initiatives. Citizens were desperate to report about ecological issues in each Balkan country to media outlets. They were also concerned about issues of local infrastructure, corruption, healthcare and minority rights. A story by Albanian media outlet Historia Ime about a transgender person who was refused a taxi service prompted an antidiscrimination process. The company had to issue a public apology and teach its staff about LGBTQ issues while the story itself was picked up by national and international media. Another example of impact was by SDK from Skopje, which collected evidence of unresolved court cases from ordinary people. In the end, the courts decided to look into these cases, collected by the outlet. You can check some of these stories on BIRN’s YouTube channel, “Engagement journalism in the Balkans”.

  1. How difficult or easy is it for media today to engage readers and get local communities to participate in their investigations by answering ECR’s online questionnaire? How can media achieve this type of engagement?

As mentioned before, BIRN offers outlets a tool, training and mentoring. But this is only the beginning of the process. Media outlets need to get familiar with their audiences’ interests and concerns. The tool offers this possibility. It is an initial instrument which will help journalists gather data and multimedia material, like photos or videos. The journalist’s job is to check the information and then use it to make stories. The tool offers audiences a chance to report while staying anonymous, or by giving their contact details. According to media outlets, this feature helps to bridge the gap with marginalised and underrepresented communities who have often lost faith in the media and institutions. Through investigations, many communities got acquainted with audience engagement and participated more actively in reporting.

  1. What are BIRN’s plans and goals for its Engaged Journalism program (ECR tool)?

From the technical aspect, the plan is keep adapting the tool to make it more approachable to users. The next goal is to expand the tool among journalists who will use it to engage their communities, which will be done through Media Innovation Europe project. Many media outlets have continued to use the tool even after their projects with BIRN ended. That is an important step towards the sustainability of engagement journalism in the Balkans.

 

 

 

 

BIRN’s ‘Bitter Land’ Mass Graves Project: Call for Contributions

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network is seeking to commission material about forced disappearances and mass graves in the former Yugoslavia as part of its online mass graves database project, Bitter Land, and for potential inclusion in a forthcoming book.

BIRN’s research into forensic evidence, court documents and witness testimonies, combined with field research, led to the creation of the Bitter Land database, a unique multimedia resource about mass graves from the Yugoslav wars.

Bitter Land maps the largest of around 1,600 clandestine war graves that have been found so far – most of them in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia.

Many of the largest mass graves of the 1990s wars now stand neglected and unmarked, while many of those responsible for massive cover-up operations to conceal thousands of victims’ corpses remain unpunished.

As BIRN’s team continues to update the database and add new grave sites, we also want to expand the scope of the Bitter Land project by commissioning a diverse range of new material.

We want to open up the project to external collaborators as well and engaging with the groups outside journalism who are interested in contributing – from photographers to scholars, civil society groups, historians and artists.

Submissions are open to anyone who is involved, or wants to become involved, in wider research around mass grave sites in the former Yugoslavia.

What kind of contributions are we looking for?

  • Feature stories, analysis pieces and opinion articles focusing on wider issues related to enforced disappearances and clandestine gravesites
  • Original research focused on the topic (historical, forensic, etc)
  • Video and photo contributions
  • Artistic contributions (graphics, visual presentations, 3D modelling, etc)

We are also open to any other suggestions of material that would enrich the resources of our Bitter Land database. The most outstanding pieces will be selected for a book publication focusing on mass graves in the former Yugoslavia, edited by Marija Ristic, BIRN’s regional director.

If you would like to get involved, please send us a brief pitch – up to 200 words – to [email protected] by August 26. All contributors whose pitches are accepted will receive a fee.

 

 

 

United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF)

DONOR
UNDEF was created by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2005 as a United Nations General Trust Fund to support democratization around the world. It was welcomed by the General Assembly in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit (A/RES/60/1, paragraphs 136-137).

UNDEF funds projects that empower civil society, promote human rights and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes. Most UNDEF funds go to local civil society organizations. In this way, UNDEF plays a novel and unique role in complementing the UN’s other, more traditional work with governments to strengthen democratic governance around the world. UNDEF subsists entirely on voluntary contributions from governments; in 2021, it received almost 220 million US dollars in contributions and counts more than 45 countries as donors, including many middle- and low-income states in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 15 Rounds of Funding so far, UNDEF has supported over 880 two-year projects in more than 130 countries.

Grants ranging from US$100,000 to US$300,000 support initiatives in the areas of:
– Community activism
– Support for electoral processes
– Women’s empowerment
– Media and freedom of Information
– Rule of Law and human rights
– Strengthening civil society interaction with government
– Tools for knowledge
– Youth engagement

UNDEF receives an average of 2,000 to 3,000 proposals a year and only some 50 are selected.

Web: https://www.un.org/democracyfund/about-undef

 

 

BIRN Introduces Project to Fight Disinformation in Central Europe Region

Mapping Digital Rights Violations and Fighting Disinformation in Central Europe is an ambitious initiative to fight disinformation and propaganda by creating a unique regional Digital Monitoring database

Launched on July 1, 2022, Mapping Digital Rights Violations and Fighting Disinformation in Central Europe Region is a two-year programme led by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, with the support of the United Nations Democracy Fund, UNDEF.

The project will determine the main patterns related to disinformation and propaganda through the creation of a unique regional Digital Monitoring database and the establishment of two new databases that will map and track digital rights violations.

In already fragile and in some cases illiberal democracies, growing limitations on human rights are also visible in the digital environment, in the form of threats. Lack of awareness of these issues within society further undermines democracy, not only in times of crisis. Elections in the Western Balkan region show that pressures on the media are not decreasing.

Online independent media platforms in the region are often subjected to online smear campaigns, hacker and DDOS attacks. At the same time, other online media are frequently the source of fake, unverified or malicious content. There is no systematic mapping of the use of technology in the monitored states.

BIRN was the only organization that has kept track of, and extensively reported about, digital rights violations and the use of technology during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BIRN’s experienced monitors will keep track of digital rights violations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo, that will be compiled in a comprehensive digital rights report. BIRN will meanwhile give 10 journalists from the region the opportunity to apply for training in editorial and financial reporting, and mentoring, to produce in-depth digital rights stories.

BIRN will use the capacities of a newly established SEE Digital Rights Network to ensure the engagement of the Network’s member organizations from the region (national and regional meetings) and to streamline advocacy efforts to increase the impact of the action. At the end of the programme, stakeholder meetings and a final conference will be held.

The aim of the project is to improve the understanding of existing online threats among general populations and governments in the region and initiate necessary policy changes. Only citizens able to critically think can make informed choices and fulfill their watchdog role.

The project is made possible through support from the United Nations Democracy Fund, UNDEF.

Applications Open for BIRN Summer School 2022 in Slovenia

Portoroz and its stunning coastline will be the setting for the BIRN’s Summer School for Investigative Reporting this August.

The 12th edition of the BIRN summer school will take place from August 22 to 28 in Portoroz and will gather top journalists and editors from Southeast and Central Europe and across the world to train reporters.

As part of the school, you will learn how to conduct open-source research, dig for big data, read complicated financial reports, convince difficult sources to talk and conduct cross-border investigations.

The training will provide a wealth of knowledge for both inexperienced and experienced investigative journalists. After training in the morning for all participants, break-out sessions in the afternoon will give you the choice to focus on more niche subjects – from illicit finance tracking to far-right groups and digital rights, among others.

Journalists will also receive training on digital security.

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, through our Investigative Initiative Story Fund, BIRN will provide participants with money to support story development and production.

Scholarships are offered to journalists from the following countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Turkey.

Limited spots are also available for international participants who need to cover a fee of 700 euros. This includes the training curriculum and full board at the Boutique Hotel Portorose, where the summer school is taking place.

Portoroz belongs to the municipality of Piran in Slovenia, located in the southwest of the Gulf of Trieste between the boundaries of Italy to the north and Croatia to the south.

Applications close on July 31.

Click here to apply!

 

 

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Nicholas Watson

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For June, meet Nicholas Watson, editor of Reporting Democracy.

Nicholas, 55, has been in journalism for more than 30 years. He started his carrier in Japan and continued in New York, London, Rome and Prague, where he has lived for the past 20 years.

As editor of Reporting Democracy, BIRN’s cross-border journalistic platform dedicated to exploring where democracy is headed across large parts of Europe, Nicholas says that journalism still excites him.

He is particularly keen to highlight Reporting Democracy’s new Travel and Reporting Programme for journalists, teams and media organisations from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

“I hope many aspiring or established journalists will take the opportunity to apply for these grants and, to paraphrase George Orwell, ‘print what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations’,” he says.

How did you start your career in journalism? 

I was actually teaching English as a foreign language in Hiroshima, Japan in the early 1990s when I was given a chance to write for a Tokyo-based international travel magazine, covering destinations, culture etc in the Far East. Through this I won the Pacific-Asia Travel Association’s (PATA) Grand Travel Story Award for 1993 for a story I did on Sumo wrestling and have never really looked back. I shifted my focus to hard news with a move to a global newswire a few years later, which took me from Tokyo to New York as a correspondent, then to London and Rome, followed by the Czech Republic about 20 years ago, where I’ve remained ever since.

When did you join BIRN and the Reporting Democracy project?

I joined BIRN in August 2020. I’d actually taken a break from journalism for a couple of years after selling my publication with my business partner at the time. I’d been doing some research and consultancy work in the interim, but it didn’t really excite me in the same way that the news business had, so when I was afforded the opportunity to get back into it with BIRN’s Reporting Democracy it was a great chance. The fact RD promotes freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values through investigations, features, analysis and interviews is what it makes it all the better – I’m honoured that they picked me to lead the network at such a crucial time for the region.

The news business can feel very cyclical, it waxes and wanes. When there’s lots of stories about and everyone is keen to write about them, it fills you with energy and hope. However, inevitably there are ‘down’ times, when there seems a dearth of stories to pursue, the stories don’t flow like they once had, there’s a feeling of discouragement in the air, and it can feel a little demotivating. It’s important to always remember the next big story is just around the corner. It’s important to stay positive, keep talking to people, keep looking into things – the stories are there, perhaps just a bit harder to find at times, and you need to dig a little deeper.

Can you choose one of your favourite reports, analysis pieces or investigations that really made a difference?

I would pick our series of pieces on the right-wing Polish government’s attempt to rally support in the region for replacing the Istanbul Convention (which attempts to combat violence against women) with an alternative treaty that aims to ban abortion and homosexual marriage, as really important. Led by Claudia Ciobanu, RD’s Poland correspondent, our people in the region found that the Polish Justice Ministry

had sent letters to at least four governments in the region (Croatia, Czechia, Slovakia and Slovenia) outlining their alternative treaty, which seemed to be based on an international family rights convention prepared by the Christian conservative Ordo Iuris Institute in cooperation with former Polish MEP Marek Jurek from the Christian Social Congress. This was an underhand, secretive attempt by one government in the region to undermine women’s rights elsewhere in the region that we exposed. Another important cross-border story we pursued included the opposition to the COVID-19 vaccination drives in CEE from a growing anti-vaccination movement that was being backed by the most conservative elements in the churches of the region.

Why did you decide to design and implement this new program? What do you want to achieve with the new Travel and Reporting Programme? 

Problems in countries tend to have their own characteristics but are usually universal: discrimination, oppression, misogyny, corruption, populism. As a journalist, it’s always important not to remain in your silo, but to explore how these problems manifest themselves in other parts of the world. Yet spending time abroad and reporting in-depth takes time and money. So, it is with this aim of fostering journalistic cooperation and exchanges of information between regions, in this case Central and Southeast Europe, that we are making available these travel and reporting grants, regional expertise as well as field support in countries where BIRN has offices (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia).

What are Reporting Democracy’s next plans? 

We have exciting grant stories coming up, investigating the conditions in refugee camps in Poland; systematic reform of enforcement and insolvency legislation in the Czech Republic as many fall further into debt; and the ‘defamation law’ in Poland that threatens freedom of speech, restricts civil liberties and has a freezing effect on the free media. We also began a series of podcasts, VoiCEE, together with our partner Notes From Poland, which you can access here. We will hopefully be looking into doing more of such podcasts.