Are the Public Budgets Misused? Monitoring of State Financing Media Projects

BIRN Serbia
Non-transparent, uncontrolled, and arbitrary allocation of state funds is recognised as one of the most efficient mechanisms of ’soft-censorship’ harming media economic sustainability and, consequently, its independence.

Summary

The long-term objective of the project is transparency and accountability of state financing of media projects and ensuring the quality of public informing. Developed mechanisms of monitoring state budget spending on media will have a positive impact on a manner how the financial resources are allocated ad spent.

Donors: Open Society Foundation Serbia.

Information Sheet

Objectives

BIRN’s advocacy activities focus on public money spending in the media sector and potential corruption and state budgets misuses. Non-transparent, uncontrolled, and arbitrary allocation of state funds is recognised as one of the most efficient mechanisms of ’soft-censorship’ harming media economic sustainability and, consequently, its independence. BIRN, in partnership with IJAS and Slavko Curuvija Foundation implemented the project Public Money for Public Interest and monitored public money spending indicating occurred funds’ misuse. The consortium identified problems which require additional analysis: numerous abuses in the state funding media process (arbitrary selection of commission members, funds allocated to tabloids and media supporting the ruling party, lack of citizens’ participation and scrutiny), accompanied with a low-quality media production; inadequate regulations for individual fund allocations, lack of market and finance analysis before public procurement procedures, increase direct contracts allocation for various media and promotional services directly influencing editorial independence.

Activities

1) Monitoring of public money spending on media production;
2) Report production;
3) Advocacy campaign.

Target Groups

1) Local self-government
2) Ministry of Culture and Information
3) Citizens
4) Media outlets and media associations
5) Civil Society Organisations

Partners

Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia

COVID-19 in Serbia: Information Resilience

BIRN Serbia
In the current situation, there is a great demand for punctual, accurate and objective information among citizens. The crisis disclosed the negative impact of disinformation and its influence on spreading panic among citizens.

Summary

The COVID-19 global crisis reveals the need for and essential role of independent, objective journalism. Serbian society is additionally burdened by the fact that democratic institutions are weak and independent media are marginalized. The Serbian government introduced the state of emergency in an early stage to combat the crisis coronavirus caused. Yet, as much as this measure seemed justified to stop spreading the virus and protect the healthcare system, it opened a space for potential abuses.

In the current situation, there is a great demand for punctual, accurate and objective information among citizens. The crisis disclosed the negative impact of disinformation and its influence on spreading panic among citizens. In addition, the restrictive measures of the Serbian government demand public attention and serious journalistic work in order to keep them transparent and accountable and to prevent deterioration of democratic values and institutions once the crisis is over. Thus, BIRN will go beyond daily reports in order to offer in-depth analysis and data articles that can provide the context, analyze causes and consequences, as well as trends regarding the COVID – 19 crisis and its implications on the public services, work of institutions and society at large.

While mainstream media extensively cover the Covid-19 crisis through daily informative production there is a lack of analysis of the trends, wider context, and the effects of the pandemic on different aspects of our society. Furthermore, most of the media cover the cases and updates in major cities (Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, etc.) while the effects of the pandemic in smaller places are even more striking and are paradigmatic of the systemic response flaws. Lack of in-depth articles and relevant analysis causes the greater negative influence of fake news and disinformation hindering efforts to mitigate the consequences of the crisis. Society is dealing, with the pandemic, but also with infodemic, and the best course of the action is to rely on fact-based, reliable, and objective journalism.

Donors: The Balkan Trust for Democracy and USAID.

Information Sheet

Objective

Increasing the quality of media coverage and public understanding of the current COVID-19 crisis and its consequences.

Activities

1) Production (data and in-depth articles and journalistic reports on a daily basis);

2) Work with local journalists;

3) Online campaign.

Target Groups

Journalists, decision-makers, citizens

Under the Spotlight: Capital Investments Projects in Serbia

BIRN Serbia
Promoting institutional transparency and accountability through investigative reporting.

Summary

BIRN continues promoting government transparency and accountability through investigative reporting. BIRN Serbia will continue operating its flagship web platform Javno (Public, www.javno.rs), which currently hosts 20 databases that monitor public spending and the work of the judiciary. The watchdog’s searchable databases contain information such as court cases on tax evasion and money laundering, public procurements approved through emergency measures, subsidies distributed to media by local governments, and travel expenses incurred by government officials.

The project will also encourage other media organizations and relevant NGOs to utilize its databases for other investigative, research, and accountability initiatives.

Donor: National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

Information Sheet

Main Objective

Promoting institutional transparency and accountability through investigative reporting.

Activities

1) Production of investigative articles;

2) Creation of two databases on reconstruction projects for health care facilities, public schools, and energy companies in Serbia;

3) Production of a series of multimedia materials, such as videos and infographics, in order to make the investigative stories more appealing and understandable to the general public.

Target Groups

Local media journalists, state representatives, local-government representatives, public at large, CSOs representatives

Where is the Place of Media in New Internet Governance Policies?

BIRN Serbia
Raising involvement of the media industry in a public debate on new development policies and internet governance issues.

Summary

During 2020, new legal and strategic documents are expected to be adopted in Serbia reshaping media landscape in a digital environment.
Internet and new technologies are the principal transformers of the media sector that bring important change to the ways of informing citizens. Development is based not only on new technologies that are accelerated by the innovation in IT industry (programmes for creation of databases, virtual reality, video, podcast, video 360) but also on new policies focused on internet governance that have a strong impact on the media industry. Only on the European level new directives on copyright, personal data protection were adopted, the directive on AVMSD is in the process of being amended. At the global forums, regulation of internet and internet governance are the most important topics the media industry is dealing with. This issue is especially important for developing countries (or those in transition, as it is the case with Serbia) and which stayed marginalised so far. Above-mentioned issues, BIRN intends to explore and put in a local context, thus counterbalancing the lack of meaningful debate in Serbia.
Media Strategy and other national initiatives, such as Digital Serbia, do not recognize the liaison between media development and internet governance. In such an environment, internet governance policies could be considered as an additional responsibility which has been imposed on media, but as well as an opportunity to overcome or bypass the current deficiency of media regulation.
BIRN will conduct research in order to formulate policy position and strengthen role of media in upcoming processes. With this project, we are aiming to contribute to a new rethinking of media policies and media development.

Donor: Open Society Foundation, Serbia

Information Sheet

Main Objective

Raising involvement of the media industry in a public debate on new development policies and internet governance issues.

Specific Objectives

The initiative is intended to support CSOs in Serbia to test, evaluate and scale their advocacy initiatives in a more strategic way.

Target Groups

Media professionals, decision-makers, state institutions representatives, media managers, journalists, CSOs, IT and telecommunication organisations and institutions

Main implementer

BIRN Serbia

Advocating Transparency in Kosovo’s Judicial System

BIRN Kosovo

In close cooperation with JSSP, BIRN Kosovo and Levizja FOL aim to improve efficiency, transparency, and accountability at all levels of the judicial system. This will be achieved through various activities, including montioring of courts, publishing of inforgrapics, articles, and reports on the courts’ performance, as well as organizing roundtables, TV shows, and designing PSAs.

Summary

In close cooperation with JSSP, BIRN Kosovo and Levizja FOL aim to improve efficiency, transparency, and accountability at all levels of the judicial system. This will be achieved through various activities, including montioring of courts, publishing information (articles, reports and inforgrapics ) on the courts’ performance, as well as organising roundtables and TV shows.

Information Sheet

Donor:

USAID’s JSSP Program (Justice System Strengthening Program)

Main Objective:

This project aims to strengthen the judicial system by promoting transparency, accountability, and efficiency.  Through the activities presented below, we aim to effectively achieve the objectives determined by JSSP.

Specific Objectives: 

  1. Judiciary’s compliance with key transparency and accountability commitments monitored and promoted;
  2. An empowered and informed society with regards to the courts’ operating activities, challenges, competences, and limitations, and an increased level of public trust in the integrity of judicial institutions;
  3. An increased level of civic participation and engagement in promoting transparency and accountability within the judicial system;
  4. An increased level of court spokespersons’ reporting skills with regards to the publication of final court decisions;
  5. An increased efficiency level of the judiciary system to better solve the high-profile cases related to crime and terrorism.

Main Activities:

  1. Monitor the publication of court decisions in Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC) web portal
  2. Publish 3 analytic articles and 14 infographics, accompanied with 14 short articles, in KALLXO.com and Levizja FOL’s platforms about the progress in publishing court decisions and case solving statistics
  3. Publish a final report per cycle on the progress of publishing of court decisions in a multi-stakeholder roundtables with the purpose of generating public discussion
  4. Announce “The Most Transparent Court” at the end of each cycle
  5. Monitor the disciplinary complaints filed against judges and the subsequent decisions of KJC and publish a 9-month report
  6. Monitor and report on the number of final decisions of parallel courts that have been validated
  7. BIRN Kosovo will broadcast 3 TV shows tackling issues related to this project, and design and broadcast an informative PSA on the publication of court judgments

Target Groups:

Relevant actors in the judiciary system, media, and society in general.

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Partners:

Levizja FOL (SPEAK Movement)

Kosovo Society Dialogue: Town Hall Debate Series

BIRN Kosovo

During the 2018 United Nations Trust-Building Forum, held from 6 to 8 May in Ljubljana, Slovenia, more than 120 participants representing a broad cross section of Kosovo society, including civil society, media, youth leaders and municipal leadership from both majority and non-majority communities, met to exchange perspectives on building trust for a more peaceful and inclusive society

Summary

During the 2018 United Nations Trust-Building Forum, held from 6 to 8 May in Ljubljana, Slovenia, more than 120 participants representing a broad cross section of Kosovo society, including civil society, media, youth leaders and municipal leadership from both majority and non-majority communities, met to exchange perspectives on building trust for a more peaceful and inclusive society. Participants shared their experiences on how to resolve issues of common concern and their ideas for workable and practical solutions to issues affecting their lives. The experience of the Forum highlighted the value and need for similar exchanges that bring together diverse views in a solution-oriented manner.

Providing opportunities for increased solution-oriented journalism in Kosovo is an important means for advancing this aim as it focuses on rigorous coverage of responses and potential solutions to problems. It is not about just endorsing a specific solution, but rather about the reporting of potential strengths and responses to problems alongside the problems themselves – not only looking at what has happened but also at ways to improve the future.

Information Sheet

Donor:

UNMIK

Main Objective:

One of the project objectives is to have strong engagement of youth as audience members and discussants in the panels. A key premise of the project is that the future cannot be shaped or discussed without active youth participation.

Specific Objectives: 

Town Hall discussions have been designed to address the following objectives:

  1. To amplify the voice, the people, men and women from a diverse cross-section of Kosovo society, and to provide an opportunity for their constructive engagement in shaping and influencing discussions and decisions of critical importance to their future;
  2. To bring nuance to the issues that directly impact the lives of people through in-depth discussions and dialogue;
  3. To stimulate dialogue and encourage members of different communities to challenge and overcome narratives and stereotypes and to build greater trust;
  4. To broaden and to bring greater transparency and inclusion to current political discussions so that the voice and views of all communities are reflected.
  5. To highlight existing solutions, areas of strength and lessons learned that can empower change-makers to contribute to the progress of the society towards reconciliation and lasting peace.

Main Activities:

Output 1: Dialogue among communities across Kosovo is encouraged and facilitated through the organisation of the Town Hall debates:

Activity 1: Conduct research and mobilise resources

Activity 2: Conduct pre-production preparatory works for the Town Hall Debates

Activity 3: Informing the audience on the upcoming themes for Town Hall Debates

Activity 4: Production and Post-production of Vox Pops

Activity 5: Production of Town Hall Debates

Output 2: Dialogue among communities is promoted across Kosovo

Activity 1: Post-production and broadcasting

Activity 2: Promotion of the debates through social media channels

Target Groups:

The target audience of these debates are the people of Kosovo, along with institutions and the international community who benefit from hearing the problems of various communities, and the solutions that they offer based on their own lived experiences.

Highlights:

The Town Hall debate series use a more advanced format compared to the aforementioned debates, bringing people from all communities with diverse demographics to participate more actively in a society-wide inclusive and informed dialogue about their future, and on various topics that directly affect their lives and Kosovo’s path towards reconciliation and sustainable peace.

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Europeanisation of Kosovo’s Environmental Agenda

BIRN Kosovo

The project intends to reach its aim by creating a partnership based on ‘Triangle Model Advocacy’ by utilising skills and expertise of think-tanks, grassroots organizations, and media, in advocating on crucial energy and environmental issues in Kosovo.

Summary

The project intends to reach its aim by creating a partnership based on ‘Triangle Model Advocacy’ by utilising skills and expertise of think-tanks, grassroots organizations, and media, in advocating on crucial energy and environmental issues in Kosovo.

Information Sheet

Donor:

European Union Office in Kosovo

Main Objective:

The main objective of this project is to foster proactive participation of civil society in Kosovo, in policy and decision making, on energy efficiency, environment, and its impact on health, in order to bring environmental policies closer to the EU acquis.

Specific Objectives: 

  • Specific Objective 1: To enhance CSOs’ and local media capacities to promote energy efficiency, renewables, health, and environmental policies;
  • Specific Objective 2: To strengthen the partnership and dialogue between CSOs, media, and public institutions in the energy sector through public discussions and combined efforts in addressing citizens’ needs;
  • Specific Objective 3: To raise citizens’ awareness, particularly among school-children, on the importance and benefits of healthy choices in energy, food, renewables, and environmental protection.

Main Activities:

  1. Capacity building of at least 50 local CSOs/citizen groups, with a special focus on advocating for energy efficiency and environmental provisions throughout Kosovo
  2. Organize two workshops with 30 journalists that focus on improving knowledge and reporting on energy efficiency, health benefits of renewables and good environment, who will publish 30 stories on local and national level media
  3. Establish and award 6 journalistic prizes in two years on best stories on energy efficiency, environment and health effects of the environment.
  4. Organize two annual ENERGY EFFICIENCY DAYS (EED)
    • Two energy themed conferences
    • One regional conference
    • One international conference
    • Two youth mobilization activities,
    • Publication of two position papers on energy efficiency, environment & health
    • Two media campaigns that include televised debates at national & local level and articles that highlight findings of policy papers produced as a result of this project.
    • Four dialogue meetings with about 200 high school & university students overall on the promotion of best energy efficiency/environmental practice.
  5. Monitoring the compliance of national and secondary legislation with Energy Community Treaty requirements and EU Acquis (Chapter 15, 27)
  6. Advocacy activities/regular meetings with public officials (Parliamentary Committees, Ministries, municipalities & regulatory bodies);
  7. Journalistic reporting and analysis on energy/environmental issues resulting in about 50 articles, analysis & TV programmes;
  8. One documentary on energy/environmental/health issues broadcast on TV and promoted widely through social media.
  9. Environmental education in 20 primary schools on these topics.

Target Groups:

  • Civil Society Organizations – 50 local CSOs for Capacity Building Trainings, including minority organizations
  • Youth – 20 primary schools for the Project’s environmental education program; 250 youth volunteers engaged in environmental education programmes
  • 200 high school and university students
  • Media – 30 journalists for the Project’s workshops, and journalists overall
  • Local and national authorities, legislators, policymakers
  • Western Balkans CSO and media
  • Wide public

Main implementer:

BIRN Kosovo

Partners:

CEE Bankwatch Network, Environmentally Responsible Action Group (ERA), Independent TV Network (Mreza)

Civil Society Advocates: Through Partnership Towards Democratic Development in Serbia

BIRN Serbia
The project aims to strengthen a participatory culture in Serbia and empower civil society groups to get people more involved in advocacy work.

Summary

The project is designed to address the lack of capacities in civil society organizations, CSOs, to undertake successful advocacy efforts, their lack of cooperation with public authorities at all levels, and citizens’ lack of motivation to join and trust CSO advocacy actions.

Donor: USAID

Information Sheet

Main Objective

By building skills, encouraging citizens’ engagement and improving advocacy programs, the project hopes to contribute to the strengthening of a democratic society.

Specific Objectives

The initiative is intended to support CSOs in Serbia to test, evaluate and scale their advocacy initiatives in a more strategic way.

Main Activities

Capacity Boost for Advocacy

Mapping, stakeholder and needs analysis

Advocacy training programs for CSOs

CSOs’ Advocacy Actions

Re–granting scheme

Support to local advocacy initiatives

National advocacy initiative toward participatory environment for CSOs

Web Platform for Advanced Reflection and Learning

Development and maintaining of the web Platform

Help Desk–Advocacy Clinic

Communication and Community Outreach

Local and social media outreach and branding and marking activities

Annual Advocacy Award

Target Groups

  • Local CSOs implementing advocacy initiatives;
  • Citizens

Highlights

Report on CSOs’ needs, policy environment possibilities in implementation of innovative advocacy practices;

  1. Delivered capacity building programs and raised level of knowledge and skills;
  2. At least 50 CSOs in Serbia directly involved in capacity building program;
  3. Advocated recommendations for participatory environment for CSOs in decision making;
  4. Produced set of recommendations on innovative advocacy approaches but tailored on community needs;
  5. Created web Platform for advanced reflection and learning;
  6. At least 15 case studies of successful advocacy campaign produced;
  7. 3 successful advocacy initiative awarded

Main implementer

Belgrade Open School (BOS)

Partners

Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

Moldova – Romania: A Network of Stories

BIRN Romania
The project aims to foster mutual understanding among people from Moldova and Romania by creating a network of human interest stories (print and audio) related to what does it mean to be a Moldovan citizen today in relation with a Romanian one, in an era of geopolitical tensions and radical social change.

Summary

At least ten journalists from both countries will produce some 20 long form, in-depth stories, which will be published on local and international level. A selection of stories will be published as an e-book which will be highly redistributed to general public and stakeholders.

Donor: Open Society FoundatioBlack Sea Trust Fund – A German Marshall Projectn, Serbia

Information Sheet

Main Objective

To contribute to the confidence building and mutual understanding process among the citizens from Moldova and Romania.

Specific Objectives

  • To involve at least 10 journalists from Moldova and Romania to report on human interest stories relevant for both countries
  • To supply local media from both countries with interviews, good-quality analytical articles and opinion pieces
  • To support informed debate on key challenges both countries are facing, both at national and regional level.

Main Activities

  • BIRN Romania team will activate its network of journalists and stringer from Moldova and Romania but will also launch a public call for contributors. Basic rules of editorial policies and communication will be established.
  • BIRN Romania will commission the stories and will schedule their publication date
  • Under guidance from BIRN team (on-the-job training), the journalists will write up to 20 long form, in-depth articles. The articles will be published simultaneously on SINOPSIS website and on BIRN’s media partners from Moldova and Romania. A selection of the articles (or brief version of them) will be published in English on the Balkan Insight website and also distributed to an international audience.
  • A selection and revised version of the articles will be published as an e-book, which will be distributed to general public and stakeholders.

Target Groups

  • At least 10 journalists from Moldova and Romania.
  • General public from the above mentioned countries
  • International audience interested in the Eastern Europe region.

Main implementer

BIRN Romania

Partners

Several publications from Romania and Moldova

Under the Spotlight: Criminal Justice in Serbia

BIRN Serbia

Promotion of judicial transparency and accountability through investigative reporting.

Summary

BIRN will provide comprehensive public insight into the capacities of the judicial system to fight against the corruption through the newly-established mechanism of special courts and prosecution offices in charge of the abuse of funds, money-laundering and tax evasion.

BIRN plans to increase its content production and publishing on BIRN Serbia’s flagship website javno.rs, providing citizens with accurate and unbiased information about cases of corruption, access to justice and abuse of public funds or posts.

BIRN will produce at least four journalistic stories in different formats – investigative, data-journalism and/or analytical content, published on the javno.rs platform, with follow-ups on the reported cases. Additionally, two online databases will be created, establishing an evidence base for tracing the work of the special anti-corruption departments and their effectiveness in processing the cases of high corruption..

Information Sheet

Main Objective:
To promote judicial transparency and accountability through investigative reporting.
Specific Objectives:
  • To promote the accountability of the judiciary and other state institutions through investigative journalism and professional media reporting
  • To put the spotlight on newly-established judicial instruments and their contribution to anti-corruption efforts, by scrutinizing their work and exposing potential cases of the abuse of funds, money-laundering and tax evasion

Main Activities:

  1. Content production
  2. Creation of online databases
  3. Online promotion and awareness-raising

Target Groups:

Journalists, experts, the public
Highlights: 
Investigations, Analysis, Data bases