BIRN Journalist Given Prestigious Serbian Investigative Award

BIRN Serbia journalist Natalija Jovanovic was announced as this year’s winner of the Dejan Anastasijevic Investigative Award in the online media category by the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and the US embassy in Belgrade on Friday.

Jovanovic won the award for her report entitled ‘Serbia Under-Reported COVID-19 Deaths and Infections, Data Shows’.

The winner in the print media category was NIN journalist Sandra Petrusic for her report entitled ‘Republic Public Prosecutor Zagorka Dolovac on the Move – Falsification of Data Essential for Public Health’.

Andjela Milojevic, received an investigative journalism award for her story ‘The Castle: How Serbia’s Rulers Manipulate Minds and the People Pay’ she produced as a fellow of BIRN’s Resonant Voices Fellowship Programme for Journalists.

‘Indictment – Jovanjica’ by Jelena Zoric, a journalist from N1 TV, won the prize in the electronic media category.

The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia organizses the awards with the support of the US embassy in Belgrade for outstanding investigative journalism and reporting on issues of public interest.

Two articles produced by BIRN journalists were also nominees this year: ‘Company Linked to Serbian Minister’s Husband Gets State Contracts’ (online media category) by Ivan Angelovski, Marija Ristic, Slobodan Georgiev, Aleksandar Djordjevic and Dzana Brkanic and ‘Son of Fugitive Ex-President Builds Raspberry Fortune in Serbia’ (print media category), published in Vreme magazine, by Sasa Dragojlo, Marko Vesovic, Vladmir Otasevic.

This year the members of the jury were: Jovana Gligorijevic, editor of Vreme, Irena Stevic, a journalist for Insajder, Dinko Gruhonjic, a journalist and Philosophy Faculty professor, and Milorad Ivanovic, BIRN editor-in-chief.


BIRN Reports Nominated for Prestigious Serbian Investigative Awards

Investigative reports by nine BIRN journalists exposing alleged corruption and official malpractice have been shortlisted for awards by the Independent Association of Journalists in Serbia.

Investigations produced by nine BIRN journalists exposing alleged corruption, nepotism and malpractice within local government as well as the concealment of data about the COVID-19 death toll in Serbia have been shortlisted for the Dejan Anastasijevic Investigative Journalism Award in the online media and print media categories, the Independent Association of Journalists in Serbia, NUNS, announced on Monday.

Among the four BIRN investigations shortlisted, Son of Fugitive Ex-President Builds Raspberry Fortune in Serbia’ by Sasa Dragojlo, Marko Vesovic and Vladimir Otasevic was nominated in the print media category.

The report reveals how Serbia serves as a ‘safe haven’ for the family of the fugitive Montenegrin former politician Svetozar Marovic. Since fleeing a prison sentence in Montenegro in 2016, Marovic’s son Milos has built up agricultural land holdings in Serbia worth more than a million euros. After the investigation was published, the Montenegrin authorities renewed their call for Svetozar Marozic’s extradition.

Another investigative piece by Dragojlo, ‘There is a Secret Connection’ (‘Ima neka tajna veza’), co-written with Serbian investigative journalist Dragana Peco, was also nominated in the same category. The report revealed the controversial business connections and deals of Belgrade’s former chief architect, Milutin Folic.

In the online media category, two BIRN investigations were nominated. ‘Company Linked to Serbian Minister’s Husband Gets State Contracts’ by Marija Ristic, Ivan Angelovski, Slobodan Georgiev, Aleksandar Djordjevic and Dzana Brkanic, revealed that companies connected to Serbian then justice minister’s husband, who is also the brother of a leading health official and current minister, won 27 public contracts worth around 26.8 million euros, including a three-million-euro bid for a healthcare information system.

Natalija Jovanovic’s investigation ‘Serbia Under-Reported COVID-19 Deaths and Infections, Data Shows’, which was nominated in the same category, revealed that more than twice as many COVID-infected patients had died than the authorities announced, and hundreds more people tested positive for the virus than admitted in the period from March 19 to June 1, 2020.

NUNS organises the awards with the support of the US embassy in Belgrade. As of 2020, the awards have been named after the late Dejan Anastasijevic, a highly respected Serbian journalist who was also a BIRN contributor.

This year, 61 journalists from 22 media outlets applied for the awards, submitting a total of 47 investigative pieces.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Belgrade on May 7.


Digital Rights Action: Enabling Free Flow of Information and Media Integrity

BIRN Serbia
The main goal of the project is to contribute to creating an enabling online environment for the free flow of information, in line with the standards of digital rights and media freedoms.


Donors: Balkans Trust for Democracy, MATRA Programme.

Information Sheet

Main Objective

The project’s overall goal is to contribute to creating an enabling online environment for the free flow of information, in line with the standards of digital rights and media freedoms.

Specific Objectives

  1. Public knowledge and understanding of the nature and impact of breaches of digital rights and freedoms are improved.
  2. Media policy framework advanced with new legislative solutions, responding to risks for media freedom and rights in the digital environment.
  3. Media improve standards of security, integrity and privacy protection in the digital environment.

Main Activities

  1. Providing the public with new information to instigate follow-up actions (including reactions, republications, and quotations) by relevant institutions, CSOs, other media outlets, and the public at large. Activities within this cluster include journalistic research, production, and publishing of in-depth articles, accompanied by data and document sets and multimedia material (visuals, video, audio). Based on the gathered material and findings ongoing public informing campaign will be implemented, including production, publishing, boosting and moderating a debate on social media channels
  2. Advocating and sustaining policy changes in domestic media regulatory framework includes the following activities: monitoring, consultations with beneficiaries and stakeholders, productions of policy solutions and amendments, participation in working groups, and other fora where media or related policies are discussed to advocate for its implementation.
  3. Raising capacities of media to implement standards of safety and integrity in the digital environment and their awareness of the potential risks – includes direct support to media outlets and journalists through service centre which will provide on-demand support in order to increase standards of privacy protection and the resilience of media and journalists in cases of digital rights violations and online attacks. In addition, a set of tools and internal procedures will be produced and promoted within the media community.

Target Groups

  1. Media community – Journalists, media outlets and media organisations.
  2. Independent institutions – Commissioner for Information of public importance, Ombudsman, Commissioner for Equality, RATEL/ National CERT.
  3. Civil sector – CSO dealing with human rights and data protection.
  4. Institutions – Ministry of Culture and Information and other relevant ministries and institutions in charge of various aspects of digital infrastructure and services (such as Ministry of Telecommunications, IKT office etc.)
  5. Public at large, especially computer literate.

Lead implementer

BIRN Serbia

Partner / Associate implementer:

SHARE Foundation

EU Investigative Journalism Awards Announced in Serbia

Adam Santovac, Jelena Veljkovic, Aleksandar Djordjevic, Nemanja Rujevic, Sanja Kljajic and Ajdin Kamber were announced on December 29 as the winners of this year’s EU Awards for Investigative Journalism, given for stories published in 2019 in Serbia.

The first place for the best investigative story published in 2019 and a cash prize of 5,000 euros went to Adam Santovac for the documentary ‘Super Graduate’, which was broadcast by N1 TV.

The jury said that ‘Super Graduate’ was a very important investigation about corruption in the higher education system, “an area in which the consequences are long-term and unforeseeable, and essentially affect all segments of life in the country”.

The jury praised Santovac for his “in-depth research of numerous, difficult-to-access data outside the borders of Serbia”.

“I think the key to the success of the documentary ‘Super Graduate’ is in its simplicity,” Santovac said in a recorded acceptance speech.

“So, working on this documentary, I managed to fulfill the most basic journalistic function, and that is not only to ask, but also to help people find answers to certain questions,” he added.

BIRN Serbia journalists Jelena Veljkovic and Aleksandar Djordjevic were awarded second place and a cash prize of 3,000 euros for the series of articles about the so-called Krusik affair, which centred on alleged corruption at the state-owned Krusik arms company.

The jury said that Veljkovic and Djordjevic “managed not only to point out direct links between top public officials and serious abuse, but also to prove the existence of the entire system in which the state appears as a guarantor in dirty business”.

The two journalists dedicated the award to Aleksandar Obradovic, a whistleblower from the Krusik factory who first spoke out about the alleged wrongdoing.

The third place and a cash prize of 2,000 euros went to Deutsche Welle journalists Nemanja Rujevic, Sanja Kljajic and Ajdin Kamber for their story ‘The Industry of Leaving’, which dealt with the emigration of health workers and the corrupt practices that are rife in labour emigration.

“The authors, through a very detailed and comprehensive research, discovered and proved the existence of a whole new industry in Serbia which is export-oriented and does not bring benefit to the people living in that country, but takes away quality health workers and care,” the jury said.

Paul-Henri Presset, the head of the Information, Communication and Press Department at the EU Delegation to Serbia, said in a video message that the media plays an even more important role in disseminating reliable information in times of crisis, such the current pandemic.

“At the same time such vulnerable times inevitably open large space for disinformation, a trend that societies will be combating increasingly in the time to come. This is why it is particularly important that we have strong and capacitated media and journalists putting additional efforts in investigating facts on topics important for society,” said Presset.

The shortlisted investigative stories were evaluated by an international jury consisting of Predrag Blagojevic, founder and former editor-in-chief at Juzne Vesti, Valerie Hopkins, south-east Europe correspondent for the Financial Times and Bojan Pancevski, Germany correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

The EU Awards for Investigative Journalism in Serbia is part of an ongoing EU-funded project entitled Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey, implemented by BIRN Hub in partnership with Thomson Media gGmbH (TM), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Broadcast Union (EBU), Central European University (CEU CDMS), the Media Association of South-East Europe (MASE), the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN CG), the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), BIRN Albania and BIRN Serbia. The aim of the project is to empower and support independent journalism and investigative journalists.

BIRN Serbia, as part of the consortium, provides technical support to the project but is not involved in the selection of awarded articles.

BIRN Serbia Publishes Report on Media Financial Sustainability

BIRN Serbia published a new report on financial media sustainability in the digital environment on December 24 as a part of a project entitled Where is the Place of Media in New Internet Governance Policies?

One of the most significant issues for media financial sustainability in the digital environment is the influence of social media networks on the media economy and the crisis of traditional advertising models.

The digital environment brought new actors to the market, new production technology, new content distribution methods and new business models, and also threatened the financial survival of some media, the BIRN Serbia report finds.

Besides selling advertising space and producing media content, the state in Serbia still plays a crucial role in the media market, having a negative influence on market relations.

The digital ad market has had constant and stable growth but the most significant revenues have not gone to media outlets but to companies such as Google and Facebook for advertising on their platforms.

The value of the digital advertising market, according to data from the AdEx survey by IAB Serbia rose from 20 million euros in 2015 to 47.05 million euros in 2019.

Mobile advertising recorded the largest growth – a 60 per cent year-on-year rise from 2018 to 2019. Video advertising meanwhile recorded an increase of 45.67 per cent.

In 2019, 11.79 million euros was also spent on advertising on social networks, of which 10 million euros was spent on Facebook advertising alone.

An additional challenge to media is how to motivate the public to pay for the content it produces, bearing in mind the amount of free content that people can access online.

Local media are in a difficult situation facing the limited local advertising market, insufficient capacity to adjust to the online sphere, and non-transparent funds distribution by local self-government.

Financial sustainability plays a critical role in rethinking media policies directly correlated with media freedoms and editorial independence – the poorer media is, the more significant financial pressure it suffers. The third BIRN report encompasses the public direct financing model, online advertising, and copyrights issues.

Two other reports related to media and new internet governance policies and media policies in the digital environment are available on

Human Rights House Award BIRN’s Natalija Jovanovic

Human Rights House in Serbia, marking International Human Rights Day on December 10, awarded BIRN journalist Natalija Jovanovic for her outstanding commitment to the protection, respect and promotion of human rights.

Jovanovic authored an important exposé of data concealment in Serbia on the real COVID-19 death toll.

The article, Serbia Under-Reported COVID-19 Deaths and Infections, Data Shows, published on June 22 this year, showed that the COVID 19 death toll from March 19 to June 1 was significantly higher than was officially reported.

Human Rights House in Serbia said it wanted to encourage journalists’ work that does not accept censorship and always questions official truths, which is why it awarded this journalist this year.

“One of the foundations of the democratic order of every community, which the government and centres of power in Serbia have for years tried to silence and overthrow is freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

“There are no free peoples or free society without freedom of speech. The right to freely express one’s opinion without the fear of retaliation or sanction, is, as well, the right to objective and timely inform,” it said.

Human Rights House Foundation is an Oslo-based network of 17 CSOs across Europe in 11 countries dedicated to building democratic and open societies founded on unconditional respect for human rights and the rule of law. Network members in Serbia are Civic Initiatives, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, the Helsinki Committee, YUCOM – Lawyers’ committee for human rights and Policy Center.

BIRN Serbia Journalist Wins CEI SEEMO Investigative Award

Natalija Jovanovic wins top award for her groundbreaking story on the number of COVID-related deaths in Serbia, which President Vucic initally rubbished, only for it to be confirmed later on.

BIRN Serbia journalist Natalija Jovanovic is the winner of this year’s CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism, promoted by the Central European Initiative CEI and the South East Europe Media Organisation SEEMO.

She is the  frontrunner for the “Young Journalist” award. Albanian journalist and BIRN contributor Esmeralda Keta won the jury’s special mention.

The awards ceremony was held on Thursday online in Belgrade.

Jovanovic is “a tenacious and brave reporter; the jury valued her story focusing on checking different COVID-19 data from different sources, carrying out her journalistic work through in-depth research,” the jury stated.

Her story “Serbia Under-Reported COVID-19 Deaths and Infections, Data Shows”, drew sharp reactions and comments from politicians, health experts, journalists, international organisations and others, and was quoted by influential media outlets across the world.

The subject of her article, published shortly after the June elections in Serbia, has become one of the main political and social issues in the country in recent months.

In July, after Serbian President President Aleksandar Vucic dismissed BIRN’s revelations, a government Crisis Staff member admitted in September that the COVID-19 death toll in June was far higher than was officially reported, blaming a new information system.

Investigations into health system failings won Albanian journalist Esmeralda Keta the jury’s special mention. Keta is an investigative journalist at Top Story show broadcasted by Top Channel and is a contributor to BIRN Albania’s and to BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight.

The jury highlighted the way “her model of journalism focuses on the injustices faced by vulnerable groups and the shortcomings in protecting citizens’ rights”

“I am very grateful for this prize and it means a lot to me. This pandemic placed a lot of challenges on all of us, but it has also encouraged us to be insistent and seek the truth, no matter what price is paid,” Keta said during her acceptance speech.“

Cecilia Anesi, investigative reporter at the online media of IRPI (Investigative Reporting Project Italy), was the winner in the “Professional Journalist” category.

This year’s edition of the CEI SEEMO Award gave priority to works covering issues related to the coronavirus crisis.

Before the awards ceremony, a conference, “(Re)Think the Digital – Reliability of the media, economic aspects of the pandemic, sustainable digital transitions in South East and Central Europe”, was organised simultaneously in Belgrade, Fažana, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Sofia, Tirana and Trieste.

Serbia Hugely Underestimated COVID-19 Death Toll, Official Admits

Confirming the substance of BIRN reports on this issue, a Government Crisis Staff member has admitted that the COVID-19 death toll in June was far higher than was officially reported, blaming a new information system.

A member of the Serbian Government’s Crisis Staff, Predrag Kon, has admitted that the number of deaths related to COVID-19 by June officially announced by the government was three times less than the real number.

Kon blamed the new informational system being used for the first time, which had not been not accurate, saying subsequent analysis of the data revealed a big difference between the real and announced numbers.

“We were using an information system for the first time. That information system at one point, at one time, was not precise enough and I cannot say why, so, somewhere from mid-June, it was not accurate,” Kon told NewsMaxAdria TV on Tuesday.

“Examining everything that happened, it is clear that there is a difference between what we, at the level of Belgrade, determined as cases and, especially deaths,” he added.

“Deaths cannot be accurately reported unless a certain period has elapsed. The data entered in the death certificate is only returned in two months… I processed the data by June. By June, in short, there were three times more deaths not only than what was officially announced but also what was reported,” he continued.

Kon said that such things “happen all the time”, and repeated that “we have never worked on that system”.

At the end of June BIRN reported that from March 19 to June 1 this year, a total of 632 people died in Serbia who had tested positive for the coronavirus, which was more than twice the officially announced number of 244 deaths in that period.

By analysing data obtained from the state’s own COVID-19 information system, BIRN also reported that the number of people who had oecame infected in Serbia from June 17 to June 20 was at least 300 per day, which was far more than the officially announced figures. They recorded a maximum of 97 new cases in a single day during that period.

At that point, officials from Batut Institute, which manages the COVID-19 information system, declined to respond to the BIRN reports while state officials, including President Aleksandar Vucic, dismissed BIRN’s revelations.

Serbia was in a state of emergency, with a curfew and strict bans on movement lasting from March 15 until May 6. Soon after the state of emergency was lifted, many of the other bans were lifted, too, so Serbia was among the first states in Europe to again allow mass gatherings, and big audiences for football matches. One between local rivals Red Star and Partisan on June 10, according to Reuters agency, attracted some 25,000 fans. Serbia also held parliamentary elections in June 2020.

Thomson Media Launches an Online Course on Mobile Journalism

As a part of a Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey project, Thomson Media has launched an online course on mobile journalism.

The online course is open for journalists or media professionals from the Western Balkans who are interested in using their mobile phone for complete production of powerful journalistic stories.

Through practical exercises, the online course will enable participants to learn how to take powerful photos, record audio and video and edit journalistic stories on mobile. It will help them think as mobile journalists who use a smartphone and newly acquired skills for independent production of quality media content.

Participants of the online course will learn

  • Mobile journalism basics and its advantages;
  • How to take control over your mobile phone camera;
  • How to take high quality photos and record audio and video with your phone;
  • How to edit journalistic stories on your mobile phone with free applications.

The course was developed in accordance with Thomson Media blended learning approach – it allows participants to work at own pace, and those who successfully finalise it will be awarded a certificate and a chance to participate in an advance course in Mobile Journalism to be held as e-workshop, followed by one on one mentoring by our experts in content production.

The course materials are all available to participants as soon as they enrol and they will need approximately 4 hours to finish the course.

The online course is hosted by Thomson Media lead regional trainer, Aleksandar Manasiev, an experienced journalist and editor of the digital media Vidi Vaka.  It features a special appearance of Glen Mulcahy, the pioneer of mobile journalism who has inspired and championed the growth of mobile journalism across the globe.

The self-paced online courses are available in three languages – Macedonian, Bosnian/Serbian and Albanian. Participants from the region can enrol as of the following dates:

For more information about our online course on mobile journalism please contact Maja Vasic-Nikolic at

The course is organized in the framework of the Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey project, which is implemented by BIRN Hub in partnership with Thomson Media gGmbH (TM), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Central European University (Center for Media, Data and Society at CEU), the Media Association of South-East Europe (MASEE), the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN CG), the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers in Macedonia (SSNM), BIRN Albania and BIRN Serbia.

The Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)

GFMD, a not-for-profit, Belgian registered organisation, is an international network of around 200 journalism support and media development organisations working across more than 70 countries.

Established in 2005 in Amman, Jordan, and based in Brussels, GFMD’s core value is to support the creation and strengthening of journalism and free, independent, sustainable, and pluralistic news ecosystems. Its main focus is to ensure proper collaboration as well as an exchange of information and experience among its members with a view to creating a strong, independent, and pluralistic media environment, which contributes to the development of empowered societies.