Building Disinformation Resilience in Montenegro

BIRN Hub

Co-applicant:
n/a

Donor:

CFI – Développement Médias

Short Summary:

The ‘Building Disinformation Resilience in Montenegro’ project will empower BIRN Montenegro, the latest addition to BIRN’s network, to establish a fact-checking unit for consistent coverage of disinformation narratives. As well as strengthening BIRN Montenegro’s capabilities, the project will enhance the skills of local media outlets and their journalists in fact-checking, content verification and accessing information of public interest. This initiative aims to strengthen Montenegro’s resilience against disinformation and misinformation, ensuring the public has access to trustworthy news sources.

Long Summary:

The ‘Building Disinformation Resilience in Montenegro’ project is led by BIRN HUB with the support of CFI – Développement Médias. The initiative aims to build resilience to disinformation by building the capacities of journalists in Montenegro.

Media organisations in most countries in the region, including Montenegro, must navigate highly polarised political environments and face increasing economic and financial uncertainty, along with pressure on editorial independence and even threats from criminal groups. Russia’s continuing war against Ukraine has posed an additional set of challenges for countries trying to contain Russian disinformation efforts while balancing this with upholding media freedoms.

The proliferation of cyber-attacks against government servers in Montenegro during the last year has also caused serious financial damage, halting administrative activities and delaying trials. This not only demonstrates weaknesses in prevention mechanisms, but also contributes to an environment that nurtures speculation and spreads unverified information.

The country has experienced strong political polarisation in recent years, which has resulted in media outlets aligning themselves with specific political agendas. This has led to the propagation of biased, incomplete and even false information that serves these agendas. Key areas where such phenomena have been noted are related to Montenegro’s NATO membership and political, ethnic and religious divisions in the society.

Increased challenges related to disinformation, misinformation and malinformation continue to be dominate social media as well as traditional outlets. Domestic media, which generally tend to cover community issues in a professional manner, lack the capacity to identify, debunk and report on disinformation.

This project will enable BIRN’s network’s newest member, BIRN Montenegro, to set up a fact-checking unit and regularly report on disinformation narratives. As well as building the capacities of BIRN Montenegro, BIRN will also build the capacities of domestic local media outlets and their journalists in fact-checking, content verification, access to information of public interest etc, in order to increase their effectiveness in professional and objective reporting. In this way, Montenegro will be more resilient to disinformation and false information narratives, providing the public with more credible news content.

Through this initiative, BIRN aims to improve the standard of journalism in Montenegro, focusing specifically on combatting disinformation. After the intensive programme, BIRN Montenegro will also be able to serve as BIRN’s focal point for all fact-checking activities related to the country, while also enhancing the capabilities of other organisations in this area. This impact will be increased by building the capacities of domestic media to identify, debunk and report on disinformation.

Target Group(s):

  • BIRN Montenegro journalists
  • BIRN Network – up to 10 journalists from the BIRN Network who collaborate with Montenegrin colleagues
  • Montenegrin youth
  • Journalists and local media

Expected Results:

  • Fact-checking unit in BIRN Montenegro is to be set up, skilled and operational.
  • Montenegrin youth to be better informed about disinformation and false information narratives designed to target them.
  • Local media and journalists to be more capable to identify, debunk and report on disinformation and false information.

Main Activities:

Activity 01. Build capacities of BIRN Montenegro journalists and its correspondents on disinformation and false information through intensive training and mentoring.

Activity 02. Purchase equipment, software and subscriptions needed for fact-checking.

Activity 03. Develop and adopt fact-checking procedures for editorial work.

Activity 04. Develop a detailed production plan for disinformation and false information stories targeting youth.

Activity 05. Conduct extensive consultations with civil society organisations dealing with youth, to identify the most problematic disinformation narratives used to target youth, as well as distribution channels.

Activity 06. Develop, publish and promote at least three in-depth analyses on disinformation and false information targeting youth.

Activity 07. Organise training for journalists from domestic media outlets on disinformation and false information.

Activity 08. Provide mentoring to domestic media outlets and journalists on disinformation and false information.

BIRN Montenegro and Civic Alliance Organize First Anti-Corruption Forum on Environment

Speakers say authorities must cooperate with citizens who report corruption – and courts should impose tougher penalties for violations of environmental laws.

Environmental corruption is one of the biggest challenges in Montenegro, it was said at the Anti-Corruption Forum Dedicated to Environmental Protection, organised by BIRN Montenegro and the Civic Alliance, held on March 6 in Podgorica.

Representatives of the executive and legislative authorities, environmentalists and journalists said all levels of authority should responsibly manage ecological resources in Montenegro, while inspection services must respond more promptly to reports of corruption in the field of the environment and process them indiscriminately.

The first anti-corruption forum in the country dedicated to the environment was held with the support of the US State Department as part of a multi-year initiative dedicated to the fight against corruption at local level.

Participants emphasized that local governments must cooperate with citizens who report corruption, and that the judiciary must be more up-to-date and set higher standards for sanctioning violations of environmental laws.

Deputy Prime Minister for the Political System, Justice and Anti-Corruption and President of the Anti-Corruption Council, Momo Koprivica, said environmental corruption is one of the biggest challenges that Montenegro is facing and that, in partnership with the civil sector, he will strengthen the fight against it.

“All proven forms of corruption will be prosecuted. We will provide full, not only declarative, support to the Special State Prosecutor’s Office. The most important way to fight environmental corruption is to fight against existing set-up regulations,” said Koprivica.

The executive director of BIRN Montenegro, Vuk Maras, said this was the last chance for the state to take the problem of environmental corruption seriously.

“For a year, together with our national partner Civic Alliance and six local partners – Boka News, Ul-Info, PV Portal, Expeditio, Ozon and Dr. Martin Snejder Jakob – we worked on issues of corruption in the field of environmental protection that directly affect citizens and communities in the specific areas,” he said.

“All the problems that were pointed out to us by citizens and communities have one thing in common – institutions that have failed and are not doing their job adequately,” Maras added.

He said that, during the project, 80 initiatives were submitted to inspections and competent authorities and requests for free access to information, as well as initiatives to the Assembly and ministries.

The program director of the Civic Alliance, Milan Radovic, said Montenegro has made some progress in the fight against corruption in the field of ecology, praising the Special State Prosecutor’s Office, which opened several significant proceedings.

“However, the situation is still worrying. All reports indicate that progress in this area is limited and that … received recommendations, especially from our partners from the EU, are mostly not implemented, or not fully implemented,” Radović said.

He said investigations and criminal prosecutions should be improved and final judgments should be reached.

At the panel, “The Role of the Media in the Fight Against Corruption in the Field of Environmental Protection,” interlocutors highlighted the importance of the new spatial plan, whose draft is up for public debate.

A representative of the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Urbanism, and State Property, Milica Abramovic, said that in the planning process, all plans were made available to the public for inspection. He denied that previous plans reflected the interests of investors and officials.

But the president of the Parliamentary Committee for Tourism, Agriculture, Ecology, and Spatial Planning, Dejan Djurovic, said the 2017 amendments to the Law on the Construction of Buildings and Spatial Planning were the worst law parliament ever voted for. Under it, direct assistance to investors is provided, he said.

UL-info journalist Admir Djoni said journalistic research has pointed to the destruction of the environment. “How can we explain that we made underwater containers from the seabed in Ulcinj and so risked the lives of fish and marine organisms, and therefore our lives as well?” Djoni asked.

“How to describe the dumping of waste in the hinterland of Velika Plaža, which is later set on fire, in order not to pay to the local utility company?” he added.

Member of the Parliamentary Anti-corruption Committee and former Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said some non-governmental organisations were more engaged in environmental protection than state bodies. He emphasized that the government he led had hundreds of complaints against environmental crime, and that the prosecutor’s office did not process a single one.

“When some investor wants to invest money, he has to obtain construction permits from various state institutions, which opens up space for corruption. The moment we have on paper what is an industrial zone, what is a protected zone, and what is a tourist zone, then there will be less room for corruption,” Abazovic maintained.

The Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Milan Gazdic, said the greatest space for corruption exists in major environmental problems like waste management.

“We cannot base development on a hotel in a national park. That is the wrong way. We have no infrastructure, yet we are building a hotel in a national park that is accessed by a narrow road, which is unacceptable. We have parts of the state and urban areas where development can be based, but not in protected areas,” he added.

At the conference, it was also said that the government and parliament must start determining the responsibility of state bodies and institutions for ignoring environmental problems.

BIRN Launches Media Ownership Monitor in Montenegro

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Montenegro on Friday presented a register of media owners in Montenegro compiled through a regional project of monitoring media ownership done in collaboration with the Global Media Registry, GMR.

It is available here.

Montenegro is one of the few countries that lacks publicly available basic information about its media market. This information is crucial for objectively assessing the size of the media market and determining who holds a key share in it.

Currently, no state authority, independent regulator or independent institution has data on the size of the media market, especially the advertising market, which is essential for planning the further development of the media community in Montenegro.

There is no independent and objective institution or organization measuring the audience, readership or listenership of media in any format. While some telecommunications operators measure the viewership of certain television programs, these data are not publicly available, are owned by companies, are based on samples exclusive to those companies, are not publicly validated and cannot be considered entirely independent and objective.

There is no publicly available unified metric for online media, forcing citizens to use various internet tools that do not guarantee the accuracy or credibility of the obtained data. Radio stations and newspapers lack any measurement of listenership and readership.

On the other hand, Montenegro is a country with significant foreign ownership of domestic media. Most key media in the country are majority or entirely owned by foreign owners. Simultaneously, the media market in Montenegro is highly exposed to media from neighbouring countries, due to a shared or similar linguistic area. This situation raises significant concerns.

However, media in Montenegro in audio-visual formats (television and radio stations) are under the jurisdiction of the regulator, the Agency for Electronic Media, and so must adhere to all laws and rules applicable in Montenegro, regardless of the owner’s origin.

In this unregulated media market, Montenegro has many media outlets in various formats, with internet portals dominating in terms of quantity. Although there are over 180 registered media outlets in the country, the media themselves often emphasize that survival in the market is impossible without significant state support, even for the largest media. All of this raises concerns that the number of media outlets in Montenegro is disproportionate to what the market can sustain. On the other hand, it is unquestionable that citizens of Montenegro must have access to diverse and pluralistic media content.

Research data indicate that, concerning several media owners in Montenegro, because basic public data is unavailable, it is difficult to assess whether they are the actual owners, or if someone is using them to conceal their real ownership.

The risk indicators compiled through the research on media ownership and the market show that the overall media scene in Montenegro requires serious reforms. The collected data and conclusions from the research can serve as a foundation for changes in media legislation and policies that the European Union, in its latest progress report on Montenegro, has called for.

Calling CSOs and Media from Montenegro: Open Call for Proposals – Society Against Corruption in Montenegro

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and Civic Alliance (CA) announce a new opportunity for local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and media outlets in Montenegro. Funded by the US State Department, the initiative seeks to combat corruption, a major impediment to establishing the rule of law in Montenegro.

Background:

Montenegro faces significant challenges related to corruption, impacting its economy and human rights. Despite the government prioritizing the fight against corruption, results are often inadequate, contributing to political instability and societal divisions. The project aims to bridge the gap between citizens, civil society and local media, empowering them to collaboratively identify, report and combat corruption, particularly in healthcare, education and the environment.

Objectives:

  • Strengthen capacities of local media, civil society and citizens to identify and report corruption in healthcare.
  • Empower civil society and media to report and counter corruption at national and local levels.
  • Improve constructive engagement between civil society, government and private sector on policies related to healthcare.

Outputs and Activities:

  • For Media Outlets: Cases of corruption in healthcare throughout Montenegro identified and revealed though developing factual and objective in-depth articles on healthcare based on the needs of local communities
  • For CSO’s: Improved anti-corruption policies, laws and/or practices in healthcare through developing anti-corruption policy papers based on the needs of local communities
  • Increased public awareness in Montenegro regarding the significance of anti-corruption efforts and the mechanisms for public interaction through enforcing anti-corruption campaign via mainstream and social media

Eligibility and Grants:

  • Maximum grant amount: $12,430.00
  • Number of grants: 6
  • Total estimated amount: $74,580.00
  • No co-financing required from applicants.

Application Process:

  • Eligible entities: Registered CSOs and media outlets in Montenegro.
  • Eligible activities: Development of anti-corruption stories/policy papers, implementation of promotional campaigns, participation in capacity-building initiatives.

Evaluation Criteria:

  • Relevance of proposed story/policy paper
  • Capacity
  • Financial proposal
  • Potential and social impact

Timeline:

  • Call issued: November 20, 2023
  • Deadline for submission: December 15, 2023
  • Information sessions: November 30, 2023
  • Notification to successful applicants: January 2024

To read the full call to apply, click HERE.

For more details, download the application form and budget template.

Join the fight against corruption in Montenegro – Apply now!

Contacts: Vuk Maraš and Gentiana Murati Kapo at [email protected]

Stay tuned for updates and follow our progress in creating a more transparent and accountable society in Montenegro on BIRN Facebook and Twitter.

EU Awards for Best Investigative Journalism in Montenegro Announced

On September 25 in Europe House in Podgorica, the winners of the EU Awards for Investigative Awards for Investigative Journalism in Montenegro were announced.

Đurđa Radulović, Olivera Lakic, Dejan Milovac, Vladimir Otasevic, Jovo Martinovic, Marko Vešović and Andras Kiraly were selected from many colleagues as this year’s winners for their stories published in 2022 exposing offshore companies, healthcare and corruption in the justice system in Montenegro.

The jury consisted of Tena Perisin, Professor at the University of Zagreb with a working experience in CNN, who led projects like HRT news program digitisation and founded Student Television and the first Journalism Research Laboratory in the region; Nataša Ružić, an academic and a journalist who worked as a journalist at Radio Golos Rossii and as editor-in-chief of the youth paper Zerkalo;  Boro Kontic,  awarded journalist and Director of the Media Center in Sarajevo.

The first prize went to Đurđa Radulović from CIN-CG for her article “Silence Surrounding Violence – Maternity Wards Violate WHO Recommendations”.

The second prize went to Olivera Lakic of Libertas Press for her series of articles on corruption in the Montenegrin judicial system and on crime and corruption within Montenegrin police structures.

The third prize was divided between Dejan Milovac from NVO MANS   for his investigation into the Pandora Papers, revealing Russian offshore millions invested in luxury real estate in Montenegro, and Vladimir OtasevicJovo MartinovicMarko Vešović and Andras Kiraly (Istraživački portal LUPA, RTV Nikšić) for  their story, “Secret E-gambling Affair”.

Oana Cristina Popa, Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro, greeted the participants via a video message highlighting the importance of the awards and investigative journalism. The jury members presented their decisions and announced the awardees.

More information can be found here.

The EU Award for Investigative Journalism 2023 is part of the project “Strengthening Quality Journalism in Western Balkans and Türkiye II”. This aims to recognise and promote outstanding achievements in investigative journalism as well as improve the visibility of quality journalism in the Western Balkans and Türkiye.

The project is funded by the European Union and it is implemented by a consortium composed of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Hub, Central European University (CEU) – Hungary, the Association of Journalists (AJ) – Türkiye, Thomson Media (TM) – Germany, University Goce Delcev Stip (UGD) – North Macedonia, The Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) – North Macedonia, Media Association of South-East Europe (MASE) – Montenegro, and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo (BIRN Kosovo).

Applications Open: BIRN Internet Freedom Meet 2023 in Belgrade

BIRN is thrilled to announce that applications are now open for our Belgrade Internet Freedom Meet 2023!

This event, set in Belgrade, Serbia, from June 26-29, brings together some of the top minds in digital rights and internet freedom to explore, learn, and collaborate together. Our program is packed with a series of thought-provoking plenary sessions, engaging roundtable discussions, hands-on workshops, and networking events that aim to empower, educate, and inspire.

What’s on the Agenda?

Our agenda promises a robust blend of plenary sessions, engaging roundtable discussions, practical workshops, and networking opportunities aiming to provoke thought, foster learning, and inspire change.

Each day commences with invigorating plenary sessions featuring renowned speakers who will lead discussions on pressing issues like digital rights and digital activism, internet freedoms, online-to-offline violence, and ethical and regulatory measures around AI. Round discussions follow by opening the floor for an interactive dialogue on subjects ranging from enhancing internet freedom, preventing online extremism consequences, privacy issues, and personal data protection to responsible AI use. 

Moderated by industry trailblazers, these sessions provide opportunities for knowledge sharing and in-depth discussions. Next, our hands-on workshops offer a chance to develop practical skills in crucial areas such as digital rights activism, addressing cyberbullying in journalism, advocating for responsible AI strategies, and more. These sessions are designed to be interactive and provide invaluable networking opportunities.

Why Should You Apply?

The BIRN Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade is an opportunity to engage with leading experts, gain new insights, and contribute to building a future where the Internet is free, safe, and empowering for all. Whether you’re a digital rights activist, tech enthusiast, academic, journalist, or just a concerned netizen, your voice matters in this critical discourse, and you are welcome to apply.

How to Apply

Applications are now open to the public, but seats are limited. Please complete the following application form by June 15, 2023, at 5 pm CET, to ensure your place at the BIRN Internet Freedom Meet 2023.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn about and influence our digital world. BIRN will cover accommodation and travel expenses for selected participants. We look forward to your applications!

BIRN Trains Montenegrin Journalists in Digital Rights Reporting

BIRN trained ten Montenegrin journalists in digital rights reporting in Podgorica for three days from May 16 to 18.

Journalists participated in eleven sessions coverimg a wide range of topics related to digital rights reporting.

The participants came from various Montenegrin media outlets and civil society organisations including Vijesti, RTCG, RTV Teuta, Civic Alliance, Zumiraj, Kombinat.

The training topics ranged from digital rights and their impact on journalism, multimedia storytelling using contemporary tools, and harnessing the power of open-source intelligence (OSINT) in journalism to techniques and best practices in data journalism, data analysis and data visualisation.

The participants singled out a session on identifying and collecting digital rights violations in Montenegro and fact-checking and verification techniques for digital rights reporting as particularly useful in their future work.

“During the session investigating the violations of digital rights in Montenegro, I learned how to recognise a story in the things we encounter every day, for example – what is the extent of the abuse of our personal data, which we are not even aware of,” said one of the trainees.

BIRN’s training course enabled the participants to comprehensively understand the relevant issues around digital rights violations. It gave them practical tools to identify and report on them more effectively.

Journalists play a key role in raising public awareness and driving change and the course was intended to provide skills and knowledge to enable them to produce impactful stories that can contribute to a more informed public debate and ultimately lead to policy changes that protect and promote digital rights in the Balkans.

Numerous reports from international rights groups, media, civil society and international organisations, as well as BIRN’s annual digital rights violations reports, have indicated a worrying situation for digital rights in the Balkans.

Such reports have emphasised the need for continuous efforts to improve the protection and promotion of these rights by improving journalists’ abilities to produce quality reporting on these issues.

Journalists are often the target of online attacks but many of them have yet to fully understand the extent of digital rights violations or the underlying legal and technological aspects that lead to such violations.

BIRN’s training in digital rights reporting addressed these issues and provided the most up-to-date tools and techniques on journalistic protection in the online sphere as well as various resources reporters can use on the job.

“I look forward to any future collaboration with BIRN because all the recent collaborations and training courses are proving to be very useful in my everyday work,” said one of the journalists who attended the course in Montenegro.

Calls for applications for BIRN’s digital rights training for journalists from Kosovo and North Macedonia are still open: find more information here and here.

 

 

BIRN Environmental Investigation Wins Prize in Montenegro

A report published by BIRN has been awarded the first prize for the best investigative story in Montenegro by the Center for Civic Education, a prominent Montenegrin human rights organisation.

The NGO’s awards were presented last week for the best stories of 2020 that “made a change”.

The BIRN report entitled ‘Beneath the Surface: Adriatic Beach Waste Just “Tip of the Iceberg”’, by Mustafa Canka, is about the plastic accumulated on Adriatic seabed, which has devastating consequences for marine life, coastal communities and, longer-term, the economies of Adriatic states such as Montenegro

According to the report, the plastic waste is generated by some four million people who live along the Adriatic coast, and by tourists who increase that number six-fold every summer.

“This award is a pleasant recognition, encouragement for further work but also an increased responsibility,” Canka said.

The investigation, published on BIRN’s Balkan Insight website, was produced as part of the ‘Investigative Journalism on EnvironMEntal Issues, with Citizens’ Engagement’ project.

The two-year project was implemented by BIRN, the Center for Investigative Journalism Montenegro, CIN CG, and weekly news magazine Monitor, supported by the EU Delegation in Podgorica.