BIRN Kosovo Holds Online Training for Islamic Studies Students

BIRN Kosovo organised an online training session on May 4 for students of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina.

Twelve students took part in the training session. The focus of the training was the strengthening of critical thinking, protective mechanisms against defamation and slander, combating fake news, and reporting on an ethical basis.

The training was led by Kreshnik Gashi, anchor of the ‘Justice in Kosovo’ television programme, and Labinot Leposhtica, the legal office coordinator at BIRN Kosovo.

Gashi discussed the evolution of the media, provided participants with techniques to help stay safe on social media, and described the role of algorithms on social media.

Talking about ethical reporting, Gashi described the impact that the reporting by the Kosovo media had on the reintegration process of those affected by violent extremism, specifically those who have returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq, and the families that have been affected.

In terms of reporting, Gashi emphasised the importance of fact-checking, as provided that it is done correctly, it fulfills the media’s role in serving the public interest.

Leposhtica explained Kosovo’s media code of ethics, legislation governing the media, and the meaning of freedom of speech on social media.

According to Leposhtica, even though the Kosovo constitution and international conventions ensure freedom of speech, this freedom has limitations, “especially in cases when the freedom of one person violates the freedom of somebody else.” For Leposhtica, “these limitations are in place to prevent hate speech and calls for violence”.

Leposhtica added that the role of the media is to inform readers and viewers correctly and promptly in accordance with international media standards, and to prevent the incitement of discrimination and intolerance on social media.

Since April this year, BIRN has organised two online training courses as part of the ‘Consortium: For a sustainable community’ project, which is funded by the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, GCERF. The previous one was on April 4, for the students of the Medresa Alauddin high school.

Paper Trail to Better Governance III

BIRN Hub

Exposing wrongdoings of public institutions, public or private companies, and individuals, through multimedia investigations, in-depth analysis of institutions’ openness to freedom of information requests, and the establishment of an online database.

Summary

The Paper Trail for Better Governance is a project by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Kosovo and BIRN HUB – to promote the rule of law, accountability, and transparency in the Balkans.

It is the continuation of the Paper Trail for Better Governance I and II.


Donor

Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of the Austrian Development Cooperation

Main Objective

The Project is expected to contribute to better functioning of the public sector that abides by the principles of transparency and accountability to its citizens. This is expected to happen, on the one hand, by exerting direct pressure to key public institutions through exposing wrongdoings and their level of transparency practices in relation to FoI laws and on the other hand, by exerting indirect public pressure to key public institutions through raising awareness of the broader public about mismanagement of public resources and competencies.


Specific Objectives

Exposing wrongdoings of public institutions, public or private companies, and individuals, through multimedia investigations, in-depth analysis of institutions’ openness to freedom of information requests, and the establishment of an online database.


Main Activities

  1. Journalistic trainings, including on gender equality, internships for young journalists in BIRN offices.
  2. Production of 25 investigations, interviews, analysis and news pieces on cross-border and country-based issues, as well as video production.
  3. Production of Annual Regional Reviews on freedom of information.
  4. Upgrade and further development of the BIRN’s Investigative Resource Desk (BIRD)

Target Groups

The main target groups are male and female investigative journalists as well as young journalists, researchers, media outlets and the general public that will be exposed to published material resulting from investigative reporting, monitoring of public institutions compliance with legislation and annual review reports published.

Highlights

More than 200 journalists have been trained in investigative skills and given special, in-depth knowledge of the particular field they are researching. Through the extensive use of public documents, the investigations are exposing wrongdoing in government and public and private companies and among powerful individuals.

The project also addresses the transparency of public institutions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

As part of our drive to promote open data governance, earlier this year we established BIRN’s Investigative Resource Desk (BIRD), a digital platform with tools stimulating cross-border cooperation among journalists, civil society and technology experts. The platform serves as a hub for all BIRN data gathered through investigative journalistic work. BIRD also includes BIRN Source, a database which currently has close to one million searchable public documents uploaded and available for further use.


Main Implementer

BIRN Kosovo


Partners

BIRN Hub

BIRN Kosovo Trains Journalists to Monitor Auditor’s Reports

BIRN Kosovo held its first training course with young journalists on May 7 designed to help them analyse and cover reports from the National Audit Office.

Supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Pristina, the training course was intended to improve the skills of journalists and monitors so they can better identify violations in the allocation of public money. The training session was also meant to encourage young journalists to undertake investigative journalism.

The course was divided into three sessions. The first session was held by Besnik Osmani, the Auditor General at the National Audit Office of Kosovo. The second session was administered by Visar Prebreza, an editor at Kallxo.com, while the third was led by Labinot Leposhtica, the legal office coordinator at BIRN Kosovo.

In the first session, Osmani explained the role and importance of the Auditor and the National Audit Office reports.

Following that up, Prebreza explained the process of researching and reading the Auditor’s reports, and highlighted the importance of illustrations and infographics within an investigation.

Leposhtica then outlined the legal aspects, explaining legal letters and the process of monitoring legal documents.

BIRN Kosovo and Transitions Open Call for Solutions Journalism Stories

To help support the development of solutions journalism, Transitions and BIRN Kosovo have opened a call for applications for micro-grants and mentorship.

The micro-grants are designed for Kosovo-based journalists journalists, including freelancers, who want to do rigorous reporting on solutions-oriented stories that can serve as a catalyst for promoting accountability for regional problems, as well as better informing communities.

In addition to financial support, Transitions and BIRN offer mentoring throughout the production of the article in order to achieve the highest possible quality.

Participation in a practical solutions journalism training course or in a webinar is a condition for receiving a grant.

Transitions and BIRN Kosovo invite Kosovo-based journalists to apply with proposals in either the Albanian or Serbian language.

BIRN Wins Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award

To mark World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, campaign group Reporters Without Borders Austria awarded the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network with its annual Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe.

The Vienna office of the Reporters Without Borders announced that the BIRN Network has been awarded for its courageous investigative journalism in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, and for its dedication to the fight for human rights, democracy and justice for the victims of war crimes.

The award also honours BIRN’s founder, Gordana Igric, who served as the organisation’s regional director until May 2018, for her pioneering work in establishing the network.

“We are honoured by this acknowledgment from our Austrian colleagues. It comes at a critical time for our region, where media are often hampered by political or business influences and lack the resources to report beyond their own country’s borders,” said BIRN’s network director, Marija Ristic.

“The award gives us more motivation to continue with our uncompromising reporting despite continuous attacks on our journalists,” Ristic added.

“We are also thankful for the honour given to our founder, Gordana Igric, who had a vision of a free regional media network and paved the way for a new generation of journalists and editors who continue to champion the values of human rights and democracy,” she said.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network was established in 2004 as a network of organisations across the Balkans promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values.

BIRN has country-based organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. It also works editorially in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

BIRN’s structure has the advantage of combining local expertise with unique regional cooperation.

The Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe is given every year by the Austrian branch of Reporters Without Borders, a leading international non-profit and non-governmental organisation that safeguards the right to freedom of information. Its mandate is to promote free, independent and pluralistic journalism and to defend media workers.

Promoting and Advancing Investigative Journalism in the Western Balkans

BIRN Kosovo

Promoting and Advancing Investigative Journalism in the Western Balkans and Strengthening the Capacity of the Organisation.

Information Sheet
Main Objective:

To promote and advance independent investigative journalism and to strengthen and enable information sharing among regional partners

Specific Objective:

  • Supporting transparency, accountability, and functionality of the system for public services in Kosovo with specific focus on courts;
  • Increasing accessibility of media and the civil society to decision-making processes regarding courts, public services, public administration, and public procurement;
  • Improving transparency and accountability of public procurement and tender awarding processes at the local and central level, namely municipalities and the ministerial level;
  • Encouraging transparency, accountability, and meritocracy in the public administration process with the special aim of fighting nepotism and party clientism within the public administration;
  • Providing valuable qualitative and quantitative data and reports to all stakeholders regarding the rule of law institutions, public services, public administration and public spending;
  • Reduce Kosovo’s barriers towards EU integration by disseminating data and reporting on the results from the monitoring process;
  • Increasing transparency and accountability of the Kosovo-Serbia Agreement implementation through establishing an effective mechanism for civil oversight over the process.

Main Activities:

  • Publishing written articles of issues on public administration, public procurement, and public services from the municipal debates during elections;
  • Publishing articles with the facts on the general situation in the Kosovo’s municipalities and local governance;
  • Publishing long articles regarding the Brussels dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia;
  • Monitoring public services.

Target Groups:

  • Public institutions;
  • Media Outlets;
  • Civil Society.

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Highlights

2,100 written articles covering issues of public administration, public procurement, and public services related to municipal debates organised during the electoral campaign, covering different promises and public statements delivered by public officials, also covering issues of public services and management of public funds 364 articles with fast facts published on a general overview of the situation in the municipalities and local governance of Kosovo.

79 long articles published related to the Brussels-faciliated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

Consortium: ‘For a Resilient Community’

BIRN Kosovo

The goal of this project is to contribute towards diminishing both motives and incentives for radicalisation, which can lead to violent extremism. Particularly important is institutions’ ability to empower young people and shape societal environment to successfully prevent violent extremism. This includes the social and economic inclusion of returnees, prisoners, and their families.

Donor:

The Global Community Engagement Resilience Fund (GCERF)

Summary:

The goal of this project is to contribute towards diminishing both motives and incentives for radicalisation, which can lead to violent extremism. This will be achieved by channeling public discourse towards building resilience to the phenomenon, and increasing accountability in public and governmental institutions, both local and national. Particularly important is institutions’ ability to empower young people and shape societal environment to successfully prevent violent extremism. This includes the social and economic inclusion of returnees, prisoners, and their families.

Main Objective:

The main objective of this project is to increase public understanding of violent extremism and to educate the public on relevant issues through proactive relations with the media. Informing the public of the project’s activities and results will also be crucial in order to promote the success of the project’s objectives.

Specific Objectives:

Specific Objective 1: Ensure that messages in public domain do not contain any unfavourable, inaccurate or outdated information which could have negative consequences;

Specific Objective 2: Strengthen the professional relationship between the project implementators and the media;

Specific Objective 3: Raise awareness within the broader community of the respective roles, responsibilities and activities of the project;

Specific Objective 4: Help shape attitudes so that the community at large can create a permissive environment for the successful prevention of violent extremism;

Specific Objective 5: Encourage public participation in the prevention of violent extremism and the process of building up resilience.

Main Activities:

  • Activity 1: Researching, producing and broadcasting five televised programmes focusing on returnees, prisoners and families affected by radicalisation and violent extremismActivity 2: Designing, producing and broadcasting/disseminating three Public Service Announcements that aim to inform the public on reintegration programmess, rights and responsibilities of returnees, prisoners and families affected by violent extremism and radicalisation, reaching an audience across the whole of Kosovo.

    Activity 3: Compiling, publishing and following up 10 articles related to returnees, prisoners and families of those affected by radicalisation and violent extremism. These will focus on living conditions, the stories of people who came back and so on.

    Activity 4: Designing, animating, producing, broadcasting/disseminating seven Public Service Announcements educating young people of various backgrounds on what they can do to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism, how they can combat this phenomenon and how they can contribute to educating their peers and community in becoming resilient to negative phenomena across all Kosovo.

    Activity 5: Researching, producing and broadcasting two televised programs on the role of young people in preventing radicalisation and fighting violent extremism.

    Activity 6: Organising five workshops for journalism and law students which will encourage them to discuss and report on the harm that the ideologies of violent extremism can cause. (Pristina, Ferizaj, Mitrovica, Gjilan, and Prizren)

    Activity 7: Conducting reporting training for Kosovo’s law students on media law, and legal protections against extremist actions in the media. Considering BIRN’s experience in investigative journalism and high-quality reporting, BIRN has the expertise and background to conduct such training sessions, where the trainees will be provided the opportunity to improve their reporting skills. (Ferizaj, Gjilan and Mitrovica)

    Activity 8: Organising training for Kosovo Press Council, the Independent Media Commission and investigative journalists and media editors on preventive measures for radicalization and violent extremism. (Pristina)

    Activity 9: Compiling, publishing and following up 10 articles related to violent extremism and on the harm its ideologies cause.

    Activity 10: Compiling, publishing and following up 10 articles related to youth engagement in decision-making and combating violent extremism. (Pristina)

    Activity 11: Researching, producing and broadcasting two televised programmes with themes focusing on the role of teachers and parents in preventing radicalisation and violent extremism, providing role models and showcasing positive examples.

    Activity 12: Compiling, publishing and following up on 10 articles that will address the role and responsiveness of public institutions to encourage and facilitate the engagement of parents and teachers in preventing radicalisation and violent extremism in Kosovo.

    Activity 13: Compiling, publishing and following up on 10 articles on institutions’ accountability for radicalisation and violent extremism.

Target Groups:

  • Family members of returnees and prisoners
  • Journalism and law students who will benefit from training workshops
  • Citizens and young people who will benefit from the PSAs, articles and televised content
  • Representatives of the Kosovo Government, the Kosovo Assembly, the Association of Kosovo Municipalities, civil society and the media
  • The Press Council of Kosovo, the Independent Media Commission, investigative journalists and media editors who will benefit from trainings

Main implementer:

ATRC – Advocacy Training and Resource Center

Partners:

BIRN Kosovo, Democracy +, KIPRED – Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development, KCBS – Kosovo Center for Business Support, SPRC – Security Policy Research Center

Promoting the Auditor General/NAO’s Role in Kosovo

BIRN Kosovo

The project aims to create incentives for both journalists and the general public to report on legal violations and possible misuses of authority during public procurement processes, including acts of corruption and money laundering. More efficient auditing mechanisms can help bring transparency and accountability, which in turn will help lower corruption and other violations that pose a hugerisk to the good governance.

Donor:

MATRA Programme, Royal Netherlands Embassy

Summary:

The project aims to create incentives for both journalists and the general public to report on legal violations and possible misuses of authority during public procurement processes, including acts of corruption and money laundering. Higher civic engagement is fundamental in promoting good governance, and a better understanding of Kosovo’s auditing institutions will help increase public support in their efforts towards accountability. More efficient auditing mechanisms can help bring transparency and accountability, which in turn will help lower corruption and other violations that pose a huge risk to the good governance. Increased public awareness about auditors’ roles and responsibilities when it comes to monitoring governmental processes goes hand in hand with efficient auditing.  As such, BIRN Kosovo is committed to empowering and encouraging civil society to engage in the process of democratisation together with the Auditor General and NAO.

Main Objective:

Increasing public oversight by promoting good governance through higher accountability and transparency in the decision-making processes in public spending.

Main Activities:

  • Activity 1 – Organise town hall conferences in municipalities to increase awareness of the role of civil society in promoting good governance;
  • Activity 2 – Deliver three one-to-one training sessions for the Auditor General/NAO staff to enhance cooperation with the general public;
  • Activity 3 Organise five TV debates on the role of the General Auditor/National Audit Office (three in Albanian and two in Serbian);
  • Activity 4 Launch the Annual Public Spending Award to recognise the best piece of media reporting that highlights violations and manipulations of authorities on public expenditure;
  • Activity 5 – Edit and publish analyses, investigations, and highlights from the findings of the audit reports;
  • Activity 6 – Organise training for new journalists and monitors to better tackle and monitor audit reports;
  • Activity 7 – Monitor court cases raised by the Auditor General

Target Groups:

  • Taxpayers;
  • Donors;
  • Local civil society and organisations;
  • Local media;
  • The Auditor General and NAO;
  • The general public.

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Partners:

ACDC – Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture

BIRN Kosovo Gives Online Training to Students

BIRN Kosovo held a training session online via Zoom for 22 students on April 4. The session focused on the construction of critical thinking, protective mechanisms against defamation and slander, and combating fake news.

The course was divided into two sessions. The first was held by Kreshnik Gashi, anchor of the ‘Justice in Kosovo’ television programme, while the second was overseen by Labinot Leposhtica, the legal office coordinator at BIRN Kosovo.

Gashi described the evolution of the media from newspapers, radio and television to social media and provided participants with techniques to help stay safe on social media.

He also described the role of algorithms, and how people can easily become prey to fake news and disinformation as a result of the algorithms created by our social media accounts.

Gashi also stressed the importance of fact-checking, because provided that it is done correctly, it fulfills the true role of the media in serving the public interest.

Leposhtica explained Kosovo’s media code of ethics, legislation governing the media, and the meaning of freedom of speech on social media. He also outlined the importance of informing the reader promptly and correctly, following international media standards, and preventing incitement of discrimination and intolerance on social media.

According to Leposhtica, even though Kosovo’s constitution and international conventions ensure freedom of speech, this freedom has limitations, “especially in cases when the freedom of one person violates the freedom of somebody else”.

For Leposhtica, “these limitations are in place to prevent hate speech and calls for violence”.

The training session was organised as part of the ‘Consortium: For a Sustainable Community’ project, which is funded by the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, GCERF.

Kosovo: Reporting, Advice, and Fact-checking After a Month of COVID-19 Crisis

During the last month, KALLXO.com’s team has produced more than 800 articles, including analysis, news, and live reporting – as well as 100 video reports and 30 infographics and illustrations on coronavirus and its rapid spread.

In March, KALLXO.com’s team (BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova joint product) has been continuously reporting about the situation in Kosovo – from home, the office, as well as in the field.

The coronavirus has reshaped societies around the world, with people changing their lifestyles on a huge scale amid travel restrictions and instructions to work from home and avoid unnecessary social contacts. The coronavirus pandemic is deeply affecting the health systems, and the global economy, while policymakers around the world are initiating and imposing serious measures on citizens to stop the virus from spreading.

In that month, KALLXO.com’s team has produced more than 800 articles, including analysis, news, and live reporting – as well as 100 video reports and 30 infographics and illustrations on coronavirus and its rapid spread.

KALLXO.com has also published up-to-date information and expert advice on the latest situation regarding the coronavirus epidemic, as well as checking and reporting fake news stories that media outlets have produced.

When news of the coronavirus’ spread to Europe broke, KALLXO.com began its reporting by providing advice on how to protect oneself from the virus, as well as investigating the capacity of health institutions in Kosovo to cope with an epidemic.

At the end of February, KALLXO.com’s team of graphic designers and illustrators produced three educational infographics, one providing advice on how to protect oneself and others by washing hands regularly, one providing guidelines on how to protect oneself during trips and the other providing advice on how to protect others from becoming infected.

KALLXO.com also published more than 100 articles on the spread of the virus throughout the world and the risks posed.

By analysing the level of preparedness in Kosovo’s institutions, KALLXO was part of preparing the country to help the spread of the crisis.

During the past month, KALLXO.com reported on irregularities found during investigations in the field, including an article on police and border officials lacking protective equipment to help protect against the virus.

KALLXO.com also initiated an inspection of bathrooms at Kosovo’s health institutions, as well as at the University of Pristina, to check whether they possess basic sanitary supplies such as antibacterial soap and toilet paper.

Hospitals and Family Health Centers were inspected in Pristina, Gracanica, South and North Mitrovica, Gjakova, Prizren, Peja, Ferizaj and Gjilan, where soap and toilet paper were missing. Reporting on the lack of basic sanitary products in Kosovo’s health institutions helped raise the alarm over a wider lack of sanitary supplies in the health system.

KALLXO.com also received reports during the coronavirus crisis that the University Clinical Center of Kosovo does not possess a contract for supplies of sanitary equipment, and investigated, publishing the findings.

The introduction of preventive measures, including the suspension of schools, further alarmed Kosovo society to the severity of the situation and increased the need to provide reporting from the field.

The news of the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kosovo, in the municipalities of Klina and Viti, resulted in a shift of KALLXO.com’s reporting focus. As a widely used regional and municipal reporting platform, KALLXO.com has continuously received reports from both quarantined municipalities.

Two of KALLXO.com’s journalists who live in these municipalities have constantly provided the editorial team with the real-time pictures and videos of the situation in the municipalities, including the supply of citizens with food and medication.

In the first two days alone, KALLXO.com published more than 20 articles illustrating the situation, as well as broadcasting live video interviews with mayors and municipal health directors.

KALLXO.com teams have also broadcast every live press conference involving the Health Minister, as well as with municipal health directors, medical experts, and other significant policy-makers on the management of the situation.

With the spread of coronavirus in Kosovo, KALLXO.com built a live discussion platform broadcast through KALLXO’s social media accounts. It has streamed around 10 live interviews with doctors, epidemiologists, surgeons, and neuropsychiatrists to provide advice to people on how they should behave in a pandemic situation.

Ten live interviews with municipal mayors and municipal officers on managing the situation from the field were also broadcasted, while KALLXO.com has continuously reported on the lack of basic sanitary supplies when interviewing health directors in different municipalities in Kosovo.

During the epidemic, our investigative team specialising in public procurement looked into reports that the University Hospital and Clinical Service of Kosovo purchased oxygen at double the foreseen price.

When discussion arose on allocating municipal funds to clean and disinfect roads and other public spaces, KALLXO.com investigated and reported that municipalities lack the necessary funds and capacities to disinfect the roads.

Debunking fake-news

Several media outlets in Kosovo have used the coronavirus crisis to serve personal interests and financially profit from the situation.

However, KALLXO’s team of fact-checkers have monitored the work of other media outlets at all times, and have been highly engaged in identifying and reporting fake news circulated in the media and on social networks.

Some of the reports debunking fake-news include:
1) Media reported the first case of a patient infected with coronavirus, a claim denied by the Infectious Disease Clinic.
2) The media reported that helicopters will disinfect the air when no such thing has been reported or confirmed by the authorities.
3) Media reported that American troops have landed in Europe, when no such event has happened.
4) Media reported that coronavirus tests have been sent to Albania to be tested and confirmed, a statement that was immediately denied by the National Institute of Public Health.

Declaring a public health emergency

After the declaration of the crisis as a public health emergency, KALLXO.com’s legal office concluded that the government has not provided enough advice for citizens who violate the strict measures. Therefore, the night that the situation was declared a public health emergency, our legal office drafted three legal analyses illustrating the legal consequences for individuals who violate the measures.

Legal analyses

KALLXO.com’s legal office a analysed and investigated reports submitted by citizens regarding violations of labour regulations and price increases in shops. Within a week, the legal office was in communication and coordination with the Tax Administration of Kosovo and six actions were taken on businesses that raised prices.