Limits of Human Rights are Being Tested on Journalists

Untransparent and uncontrolled surveillance enables infringement of citizens’ privacy and changes how journalists work with sources, concluded the participants of the panel „Influence of new technologies, artificial intelligence and surveillance technology on freedom of expression and the media“, which BIRN organized in cooperation with OSCE.

The opening address was delivered by H.E. Jan Braathu, head of OSCE Mission in Serbia and Slavica Trifunović, assistant to the Minister of culture and information of Serbia. She noted that the Ministry is fully dedicated to the implementation of the new Media strategy that recognizes the issue of protection of journalists’ sources, and said that the Ministry has already taken numerous steps in the field of media literacy.

The OSCE ambassador underscored that the problem of surveillance and its impact on media freedoms is not just an issue for the Serbian government, but for European countries as well. Those who control information, control the future. Surveillance technologies created by global online corporations now have a decisive impact on journalistic reporting, protection of sources, and the audience, Braathu said.

Bojana Kostić, author of the report „Uncontrolled surveillance, uncontrolled consequences: Short overview of the impact on freedom of expression and media freedoms“ said that citizens do not truly have the freedom of choice: if you wish to find a job, you must use social network platforms, if you wish to get informed, you also use social media, etc. The democratic society is caught between a rock and a hard place – rising corporate power on one hand, and the power of the state on the other. Surveillance is at the root of their influence.

Surveillance also plays a role in the everyday work of journalists, especially when it comes to sources’ right to protection, which is maybe the most important legacy of media freedoms, said Tanja Maksić, author of the research „Uncontrolled surveillance, new form of pressure“.

Rade Đurić, a lawyer for NUNS reminded participants that last year civil society prevented the introduction of a new law on police that would allow biometric surveillance. The introduction of biometric surveillance would have threatened the existing freedoms of citizens and journalists.

The conference and the report are part of BIRN’s programme that focuses on digital rights and media freedoms.

The conference was organized within the project „Action for digital rights – promoting free flow of information and integrity of the media“, which is implemented in partnership with BIRN Serbia and the SHARE Foundation, with the financial support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy and the MATRA programme.

 

In the front line – protecting journalists digital safety in the time of crisis

BIRN Serbia

The project addresses the lack of adequate response to the rising trend of online harassment, threats, pressures and abuses of journalists in the online sphere.

Summary:

Since 2014, Share and BIRN digital monitoring documented hundreds of cases of digital rights violations in various forms, from technical to psychological. The initial bad situation additionally escalated during the emergency situation and Covid 19 crisis. Journalists were systemically denied access to information, while those questioning the Government measures were intimated and subjected to various forms of online harassment, even undue arrest, resulting in the lack of reliable information for the public in the time of crisis.

In spite of journalists increasingly being at risk online, it is not sufficiently recognized by the existing legal setting. Consequently, institutional mechanisms for protection of journalists are not adequate. In addition, journalists themselves don’t have enough knowledge to protect themselves and integrity of their work in these situations, while public support is sporadic. Considering the growing importance of keeping the digital space free and open in the country where in general media freedoms are in decline the project will prevent, expose, react to and help counter various forms of online harassment.

 Donor:

EIDHR

Main Objective:

BIRN, IJAS, and IPI’s joint action aim to strengthen journalists’ resilience amid various forms of online harassment and pressures and thus enhance the role and position of media and civil society in standing for freedom of expression and free flow of information, as fundamental human rights. These rights are especially endangered during Covid 19 pandemic and similar crises.

Main Activities:

  1. Monitoring of the existing legal framework and practice in response to online attacks against journalists
  2. Advocacy actions to support IJAS/BIRN engagement in policy working groups and enable formulation of new policies and/or proper implementation in the digital sphere
  3. Capacity building for journalists
  4. Online platform development and promotion
  5. Services for journalists (legal support, online crisis communication, technical support)
  6. Journalistic production and ongoing online campaign

Target Groups:

  • Journalists, media outlets and media organizations
  • Independent institutions
  • CSO sector dealing with human rights
  • Decision makers
  • Citizens
  • International institutions dealing with human rights and media freedom

Main implementer:

Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (IJAS)

Partners:

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Serbia (BIRN Serbia)

International Press Institute (IPI)

 

 

EU Investigative Awards for 2021 Announced in Serbia

Stories on air pollution, cronyism in business and manipulation of the COVID death toll received the top prizes at an awards ceremony on November 16.

Dina Djordjevic, Sasa Dragojlo, Dragana Peco and Natalija Jovanovic were announced as the winners of this year’s EU Awards for Investigative Journalism, for stories published in 2020 in Serbia, on Tuesday November 16 at the EU info centre.

First prize for best investigative story published in 2020 in Serbia went to Dina Djordjevic for a series of articles on air pollution published by Centre for Investigative Journalism CINS.

A series of texts reveal that a Chinese company, Zidjin, which took over the former Mining and Smelting Basin in Bor, RTB, in 2018, made numerous omissions in its work due to which the lives of local people were endangered.

Dangerous substances were leaked into the air, pollution increased, and official measurements did not give a true picture of the situation for years, as institutions shifted responsibility from one to another.

“The special value of this story is the abundance of relevant sources. Through the testimonies of citizens, activists and experts, obtaining official documents, information and explanations from several sides, staying in Bor and its surroundings, the journalist certainly and skillfully presented the truth and facts,” the jury stated in its explanation.

“I hope that because of this award, we will be reminded of all topics, because many of them are still problems today,” Djordjevic emphasized in her response.

Sasa Dragojlo of BIRN and Dragana Peco of KRIK were awarded second place for Folic’s New Business with Old AcquaintancesThe jury explained that the authors had “brought a detailed breakdown of the work of a high public official”, Milutin Folic, “who has started a private business in the meantime but is inseparably linked to his previous position.

“Through a comprehensive analysis of the links between the most influential political party, senior government officials and private firms, the causes and consequences of such deals, the authors offer an illustration of ‘revolving door’ and ‘crony business,’” the jury recalled.

Dragojlo said that government officials say that the construction sector is a “development sector” but that the story of former chief urbanist of Belgrade Milutin Folic shows that not all citizens benefit from that sector, but only those people who are close to the authorities or in power.

BIRN journalist Natalija Jovanovic won third place for, Serbia Under-Reported COVID-19 Deaths and Infections, Data Showswhich revealed the manipulation of the death toll from the coronavirus during 2020.

The jury states in its explanation that, “the research on which the article is based reveals the government manipulation of one of the key issues of public interest during the pandemic – the number of deaths from COVID-19.

It added: “This very widely read article on an extremely important topic did not force the responsible authorities to offer an explanation of the difference between the official numbers and those reached by the author. That speaks of the state of democracy in Serbia.”

Jovanovic said the award was a good reminder that a year-and-a-half after its publication, Serbia still does not know who deceived the public about the number of COVID deaths, or why, adding that she would continue her search for the truth.

Paul-Henri Prese, Head of Information, Communication and Media of the EU Delegation in Serbia, said that the EU sees the role of the media as fundamental for the promotion and maintenance of democracy, and to maintaining the rule of law.

In addition to the awarded stories, the jury praised the value of the journalistic work on collecting and documenting information through the creation of databases: Koliko košta poslanik, published by CINS and Prosudi ko sudi, published by KRIK.

This year 28 applications were submitted to the competition, 26 of which fulfilled the conditions. Evaluation of the nominated stories was conducted in two phases. In the first, a jury consisting of Aleksandra Krstić, professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences, and Momir Turudić, editor of the weekly Vreme, selected 13 shortlisted stories.

These were then evaluated by a jury consisting of Tatjana Lazarevic, editor-in-chief of KosSev, Predrag Blagojevic, founder and former editor-in-chief at Juzne Vesti and Tihomir Loza, executive director of SEENPM network.

The EU Awards for Investigative Journalism in Serbia are 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, the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, the European Broadcasting Union, Central European University, the Media Association of South-East Europe, MASE, the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro, CIN CG, the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), BIRN Albania and BIRN Serbia.

The aim 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.Dragana Peco, Sasa Dragojlo, Dina Djordjevic and Natalija Jovanovic

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.

Summary

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 www.birnsrbija.rs.

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 Reporter.al 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.