The 2016 regional scheme of EU awards for investigative journalism in Western Balkans and Turkey rewarding the best investigative stories published in 2015 is brought to an end.
Altogether 35 journalists in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey were awarded for 24 investigative stories. In many cases, more than one journalist contributed to the awarded story. Among winning journalists, 13 are female and 22 are male. BIRN was featured prominently – 13 of its journalists took home 5 awards, including the awards in Albania, Serbia (2 awards), Macedonia and Kosovo.
The awarded stories cover a wide range of topics: from petroleum concessions, shady business deals and mismanaging of public resources such as funding or police force, to life threats faced by Roma, femicide and child abuse in imprisonment.
Winning journalists received a total of 75,000 euro from the funds established for the EU investigative journalism awards in Western Balkans and Turkey.
Separate award contests were organised in each of the seven EU-Enlargement countries mentioned above. Eligible were investigative stories contributing to transparency and reporting on societal issues related to abuse of power and fundamental rights, corruption and organised crime, issues that otherwise would not have been brought to the public’s attention. In total, 247 nominations were processed. This year a special award category for the best story written by young investigative journalists was added.
The award scheme was established by the European Commission following the EU Enlargement strategy to monitor the reform processes and to keep the historical momentum towards the EU accession. Three annual contests are included in the award scheme. This year the EU awards for investigative journalism in Western Balkans and Turkey have been delivered for the second time; the first contests were organised in 2015 rewarding the journalists’ achievements in 2014.
The total award fund for the three annual contests in seven beneficiary countries for the period of three years is 210,000 euro. The annual award fund for each country is 10,000 euro, to be divided among the 1-3 prize winners at the jury’s discretion with 3000- 5000 euro per individual prize. This year annual award fund in Serbia was 15,000 euro since, in 2015, the jury decided to deliver only the first prize and the remaining funds have been transferred to this year award fund.
The EU awards are administered by the regional partnership of civil society organisations, selected for that task by the European Commission. The regional scheme is coordinated by the Peace Institute in Ljubljana, a SEENPM member. The partners administering the EU awards for investigative journalism in the beneficiary countries are: Albanian Media Institute, Tirana, Albania; Media and Civil Society Foundation Mediacentar Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Press Council of Kosovo, Pristina, Kosovo; Macedonian Institute for Media, Skopje, Macedonia; Montenegro Media Institute, Podgorica, Montenegro; Novi Sad School of Journalism, Novi Sad, Serbia, and Platform for Independent Journalism P24, Istanbul, Turkey.
Independent juries in each of seven beneficiary countries awarded the top prizes as follows:
Journalist Leonard Bakillari was awarded first prize for his article on corruption in the judiciary system, published by reporter.al news portal, the online publication of BIRN Albania. Second prize went to Ornela Liperi of magazine Monitor for her article on the financial crisis and debt situation of business companies in Albania. Habjon Hasani was recognized for his TV report on the petroleum concession and its effects on economy, broadcast in the framework of the program Të Paekspozuaritof Ora News TV; he took the award for best story by a young investigative journalist.
Jury consisted of five prominent media professionals and civil society representatives: Aleksander Cipa, head of Union of Albanian Journalists and jury chair, Lutfi Dervishi, media expert, Ani Ruci, Deutsche Welle correspondent, Rrapo Zguri, professor of journalism, and Lavdrim Lita, member of EU Policy HUB.
The award ceremony was an opportunity to reflect on the importance of investigative reporting. Aleksander Cipa, chair of the jury, pointed out the difficulties that investigative journalists face, at a time when their job is of particular importance to our societies. Jan Rudolph, head of Political, Economic and Information Section of the EU Delegation to Albania connected investigative reporting to EU practices: “Freedom of expression and freedom of the media implies a commitment to democracy, good governance and political accountability. These are some of prerequisites for a country to become part of the EU and one of the reasons why each of you play such an important role in creating EU standards.”
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
The first prize was given to Siniša Vukelić, for his investigative series “Balkan Investment Bank Robbery“ published by Capital.ba. Second place went to Aladin Abdagić of Center for Investigative Journalism (CIN), for the story „Čović’s wealthy father-in-law“. The best story by a young investigative journalist was written by Stefan Mačkić, who investigated corruption in Republika Srpska’s concession contracts. It was published by website eTrafika.
The jury comprising of Borislav Kontić, Helena Mandić, Belma Bećirbašić, Tanja Topić and Zoran Ivančić, selected the winning stories. “The Award is about showing how much we value investigative journalism. It strongly contributes to transparency, good governance and to the implementation of the people’s right to know. It brings information that is in the public interest to light“, said Jan Snaidauf, head of Political and Economic Section of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Siniša Vukelić, first prize winner, said that investigative journalism and media in Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be isolated from the state of judiciary, education and the general political climate. “But together, we can make small steps towards the goal. Investigative journalism alone cannot eradicate crime and corruption, but a series of small steps will achieve a great things”, he added.
The first prize this year was given to Besnik Krasniqi and Ganimet Klaiqi, journalists of daily newspaper Koha Ditore, for the investigative story “Illegal ‘diplomatic’ university”. It is a story about an illegal educational institution supported, protected and promoted by the state. The impact of the story was tangible as it resulted in concrete actions of the authorities.
The second award went to ParimOlluri, at that time a journalist of BIRN Kosovo, for his investigative story “The friend of Lushtaku benefits from Vala”, published in the newspaper Jetanë Kosovë. The findings of the investigation showed that a manifestation meant to showcase a cityinvolved an abuse of public funds and public office.
The award for the best story by a young journalist was given to two journalists who have just started working as investigative journalists – Leonida Molliqaj and Besnik Boletini, for their story “Eating their daily bread”, published at the Kosovo Centre for Investigative Journalism, Preportr. The story addresses life threats faced by some of the most unprotected members of society, from Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian Communities trying to survive poverty.
This year, the jury members were ImerMushkolaj, analyst/Chairman of Board of Press Council of Kosovo, AnamariRepić, Deputy Director of Radio Television of Kosovo, Besa Luci, editor in chief of Kosovo 2.0, and Artan Mustafa, journalist and former editor in chief of Jetanë Kosovë.
Journalist Boris Georgievski, a journalist of Deutsche Welle, won the first prize for a series of articles titled “Dossier Telecom”, published by Prizma, the online publication of BIRN Macedonia. The story reveals the developments related to the “Telecom” corruption affair and the numerous controversies that are associated with the company’s operations and the relations with the Macedonian political leadership since 2001.
The second prize was awarded to the team of BIRN Macedonia, Ana Petruseva, Tamara Causidis, Meri Jordanovska, Vlado Apostolov, Riste Zmejkoski and Zoran Ricliev, for the investigative story titled “Skopje 2014 Uncovered”, published by Prizma. The series of articles reveals the amount of government money that has been spent by now for the construction of the facilities from the “Skopje 2014” project, as well as a series of corruptive relationships between the entities that stand behind the project.
The award for the best investigative story by a young journalist went to Biljana Nikolovska for the series of TV stories on the topic “From unemployed to prisoners: how the system convicted and then amnestied 15,000 health insurance beneficiaries”, aired on TV Telma. The story reveals that, at the request of the Health Insurance Fund, the prosecution offices across the country initiated proceedings against unemployed persons for the crime “forgery of a document”.
The jury, comprised of Ljupco Popovski, Snezana Lupevska Sozen, Lulzim Haziri, Goran Trpenoski and Mirce Adamcevski, noted the need for new projects and initiatives supporting the investigative journalism, for young journalists to spend more time researching topics and for greater cooperation between the mainstream media and organizations conducting investigative journalism. Director General of Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations at the European Commission, Christian Danielsson, presenting the awards in Macedonia said: “The journalists’ job is to disclose abuse of power in any level of society, their work is crucial in informing citizens and making politicians more accountable for their actions.”
Mirko Bošković, a journalist of Television of Montenegro, won the first prize for the serial entitled “The Promised Land”, revealing the mechanisms of abusing the power and institutions in the business of buying and selling attractive properties on the Montenegrin coastline and in Podgorica.
The second prize was awarded to Milena Perović Korać for investigative stories “As If It Was a War” and “The Police Covering up the Torture at the Night of Protests”, published in weekly magazine Monitor. The stories shed light on efforts of state institutions, especially the police, to protect those responsible for excessive use of force in breaking up the last year’s anti-government protests in Podgorica.
The award for the best story by a young investigative journalist was given to Ana Komatina and Vladimir Otasević for the investigative stories “Dossier of Vei Seng Pua”, which have been written at the Centre for Investigative Reporting and published in the daily newspaper Vijesti and Vijesti web portal. The serial sheds light on networking between the holders of local political and economic power with those who come to Montenegro with the support of the controversial foreign businessmen and bring non-transparent investments.
A five-member jury – Dragoljub Vuković, Snežana Nikčević, Sonja Drobac, Olja Nikolić and dr Olivera Komar – decided on winners. Mirko Bošković, the winner of the first prize,said at the award ceremony: “This prize is recognition and great argument for the public broadcaster to have investigative journalism all the time in its program.”He added that he believes the award will encourage the management and editorial team of public broadcaster RTCG to bring the serial “The Promised Land” back in the program.
Aleksandar Đorđević, a journalist of BIRN Serbia, won first prize for his investigative story “Draining the mine and the budget”, published in the weekly Vreme. His article about the Tamnava coal mine rehabilitation caused a great public debate about corruption and waste of government funds. The second prize was given to Darko Šper from investigative centre Voice, for the series of articles dedicated to the judicial process for forbidden neo-Nazi organization “Nacionalni stroj”, while the third prize winners are Ivan Angelovski, Petrit Collaku, Kreshnik Gashi and Jelena Ćosić from BIRN. They are awarded for the story “Veselinović and partners got millions without tenders”. The award for best young investigative journalists went to Snežana Đurić and Novak Grujić, for a series of articles “Municipal radar”, published on the website Pištaljka.
Members of the jury were Brankica Stanković, the editor in chief of Insajder.net, Ljubica Gojgić, journalist of public broadcaster RTV, Rade Veljanovski, professor at Faculty of Political Sciences, Vladimir Barović, professor at Faculty of Philosophy, and Miroslava Milenović, the member of the Anti-Corruption Council. The jury concluded that investigative journalism is mostly present in unconventional media outlets, such as websites and investigative networks. The president of the jury Miroslava Milenović emphasized that the award is a positive impulse for media in societies such as Serbia – it gives journalists impetus to continue to collect facts and documents and to make them see daylight.
Hilal Köse was awarded the first prize for her news story entitled “Such an Atrocity Has Never Been Seen” published by the Cumhuriyet newspaper. Second prize went to Arda Akın of Hürriyet newspaper for the series “89 Times Maşallah” documenting false customs declarations by the Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, currently under indictment by a US court for corruption. The young investigative journalist award was split between Burcu Karakaş for her story about suspicious deaths of women in the South East province of Van, published by daily Milliyet, and Canan Coşkun for her story about top officials’ misuse of power, published by Cumhuriyet.
The jury, chaired by professor Arzu Kihtir of Isyanbul University, and composed of journalists Hasan Cemal, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Cengiz Çandar and press attorney Fikret İlkiz, noted that, as the press and freedom of expression remain in dire straits in Turkey, it was especially pleasing to see the overall high quality of news items submitted for consideration. ”As in any of our member states, Turkey needs professional investigative journalism, and you are making an important contribution to it”, wrote Ambassador Hansjörg Haber, head of the EU Delegation to Turkey in a message of congratulations to the winners.
Yavuz Baydar, a founding member of P24 and national coordinator of the EU award, said the award recognizes a strong need to support freedom of expression and investigative journalism at a time when journalism is under great pressure in Turkey. “Hopes and trust in democracy can flourish only in countries where investigative journalism is kept alive,” he said.
PARTICIPATION IN THE WESTERN BALKANS YOUTH CONFERENCE
Young investigative journalists, winners of this year special category of the EU awards for investigative journalism in Western Balkans and Turkey will receive a special invitation to attend the Western Balkans Youth Conference, taking place in Paris, 4 July 2016, in the margins of the Western Balkans Summit. Connecting Youth will bring together 150 young people from the EU and Western Balkans countries, to discuss common challenges and work towards finding joint solutions.
The third contests aiming to award the best investigative stories published in 2016 will be organised in early 2017.
The article was originally published by South East European Media Observatory.