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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article16 June 2017Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

Honouring 25 journalists with the '2017 EU Investigative Journalism Awards in the Western Balkans and Turkey'

The 2017 edition of the 'EU awards for investigative journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey' rewarding the best investigative stories published throughout 2016 just came to an end with the final award ceremony held in Albania last week. The...

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The 2017 edition of the 'EU awards for investigative journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey' rewarding the best investigative stories published throughout 2016 just came to an end with the final award ceremony held in Albania last week. The ceremony also marked the end of the three-year award scheme which was established by the European Commission in 2015.

Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations commented: "The number of good quality and investigative journalism stories that have been submitted for the 2017 edition of the 'EU Investigative Journalism Awards in the Western Balkans and Turkey' is impressive. Through these awards, we are honouring journalists practicing investigative journalism in the seven participating countries in often challenging circumstances. The EU remains fully committed to continue supporting quality and investigative journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey.Support to professional journalism is the best antidote against disinformation and fake news."

All-in-all, 237 nominations for stories published in 2016 were considered in the seven participating countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey). Based on these nominations, 25 journalists were awarded for their investigative work on 21 stories. In comparison to the previous year when teams of journalists were authors of many of the winning stories, this year most stories were authored by individual journalists.

The award-winning stories covered a wide range of societal issues, focussing in particular on corruption and abuse of power in local and state institutions, but also on procurement and subsidies controversy, irregularities in energetics business, tax fraud, environmental disasters and abuse of children. Some stories resulted in further investigations, legislative changes or reconstituting processes in the communities, while others merely disclosed information that was previously hidden from the public eye, thus encouraging journalist colleagues to take on investigative journalism.

Amongst the media with extraordinary achievements regarding the number of 2017 winning stories are the Žurnal online magazine (Bosnia and Herzegovina), the Alsat-M TV channel (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and the Vijesti daily newspaper (Montenegro) that have each published 2 award-winning stories, as well as the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) whose journalists have worked on three of the prized stories (in Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in Serbia).

Background on award-winning stories per country (2017 edition):

Independent juries in each of the seven beneficiary countries awarded the top prizes as follows:

ALBANIA

This year’s first prize for the EU award for investigative journalism in Albania was given to Alisa Mysliu for her work on the investigative story “The garbage we eat” broadcasted on Fiks Fare program on Top Channel TV. The program focuses on the insufficient role of state authorities in guaranteeing the food products that are sold in Albania, while also tackling different aspects of the food commerce chain, such as trade conditions and security of poultry, the safety of meat products, as well as milk and dairy produce. The program has since caused immediate reaction of state authorities in several cases, trying to take measures and react on food security.

The second prize was awarded to Artan Rama and his team for their work on the story “Maturity exams in chaos” broadcasted on Vizion Plus TV. Even though public officials considered the law on higher education as a successful reform, Rama’s story shows that in reality the implementation of this reform further degraded the method of competition of students for entering university of their preference. The program addressed the weak points of the education system in this respect and the independence, inadequacy and weakness of public officials to resist pressure.

The prize for the best story by a young investigative journalist was handed to Elvis Nabolli of BIRN Albania for his work on the story “An Albanian war on drugs”, published by Balkan Insight and Reporter.al. The article documents that the process of planting, growing, and trading this plant/drug works in a carefully constructed network and process, which has spread even in remote areas. The article investigates the spread of the phenomenon, the practices, the effect it has on the peasants in these areas, the role of the authorities, and the ramifications the whole phenomenon on the country.

The jury was composed of Rrapo Zguri, professor of journalism, Aleksander Cipa from the Albanian union of journalists, media experts Lufti Dervishi and Valbona Sulce, and Adi Krasta of Top Channel TV.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

This year’s first prize for the EU award for investigative journalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina was awarded to Avdo Avdić and Davor Obrdalj from Žurnal online magazine, for their investigative story „The ruler from the underground“. Their documentary tells the story of Mirsad Kukić, vice president of SDA and president of Tuzla Canton board, who was convicted of economic crime. The authors of the winning story consider the impact of the award in reaching a wider audience, since none of the local television stations wanted to air it when they first offered it.

The second prize went to Amarildo Gutić, also of Žurnal online magazine, for his documentary „Terma“, about the illegal award of contracts (procurement controversies) in the Gacko thermal power plant. The prize for best story by a young investigative journalist was awarded to Merila Dizdarević, for her work on the story „The Bosnalijek Affair: Cure called profit“, which was broadcast as part of Radio-Television of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (RTVFBiH)'s political magazine „Mreža“.

The award jury consisted of Boro Kontić, Belma Bećirbašić, Helena Mandić, Tanja Topić and Zoran Ivančić.

KOSOVO

This year’s first prize for the EU award for investigative journalism in Kosovo went to Leonard Kerquki, a journalist at Gazeta Express, for the investigative story “Shtabi i Milionerëve” (The Headquarters of Millionaires), which reveals the rapid enrichment of several persons – the persons in question were part of the Kosovo Liberation Army UÇK – today’s leaders of high institutions and political parties.

The second prize was handed to Faik Ispahiu of BIRN Kosovo for the investigative story “Vjedhja e organizuar tatimore” (The Organized Tax Fraud), broadcast by Radio Television of Kosovo, which deals with the malpractice in the Tax Administration of Kosovo, revealed by a local whistle-blower Murat Mehmeti. The story appeals to other whistle-blowers to publicly reveal similar abuses in the state institutions.

The award for the best story by young journalist was given to the journalist Vehbi Kajtazi for his story “Dosja e Shefave - Shteti në dorë të nëntokës” (The Dossier of Bosses – the state in the hands of the underground), published by Insajderi.com which exposes the organized crime, the attempt of state capture and the role of the people involved in every level of institutions, including independent bodies. The publishing of the story had a huge impact on public opinion, while a follow-up investigative process is still ongoing.

This year's jury members were Imer Mushkolaj, analyst and chairman of Board of Press Council of Kosovo, Anamari Repić, journalist and deputy director of Radio Television of Kosovo, Besa Luci, journalist and editor in chief of Kosovo 2.0, Lindita Tahiri, professor at University of Pristina, and Evliana Behrani, editor in chef at news portal InfoGlobi.

MONTENEGRO

This year’s first prize for the EU award for investigative journalism in Montenegro was given to Jelena Jovanović, a journalist of the daily newspaper Vijesti for her investigative series of articles about the illegal setting up of the cameras and the surveillance of the public space at several locations in Kotor by unknown individuals, most likely members of criminal clans. The jury claimed that Jovanović’s story ‘’contains all the essential characteristics of a good story, such as social relevance, objectivity, impartiality, the quality of arguments and self-collected evidences.” Jovanović herself pointed out that “there is no proper journalism without investigative reporting, because only that type of stories can change the things that are not good in the society.”

The second prize was given to Milena Perović Korać and Milka Tadić Mijović, from the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro, for a series of stories entitled “Corruption at the local level- Kolašin”. The stories were published by Monitor weekly magazine.

The prize for best story by a young journalist went to Ivan Čađenović, from the daily newspaper Vijesti, for his series of articles on the claims that the dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Montenegro plagiarized his doctoral thesis and a textbook. The jury justifies its selection of Čađenović’s work with the positive impact it had on the Montenegrin academic community. “Namely, the entire academic community was invited in the fight against plagiarism and academic misconduct, which is already resulting in adoption of specific measures in this area.”

The jury was composed of Dr. Olivera Komar (president), Dragoljub Vuković, Snežana Nikčević, Sonja Drobac and Olivera.

SERBIA

Maja Živanović, a journalist of Vojvodina’s Investigative Center (VOICE), won the first prize of this year’s EU award for investigative journalism in Serbia for a series of investigative articles about the local natural gas distributor, Novi Sad Gas, whose debts to the national company Srbijagas, with whom it trades gas on the free market, have doubled in the period of two years and have reached 6.89 billion dinars, despite a good collection.

The second prize was awarded to journalist Dragan Gmizić of BIRN for his documentary film about poaching in Serbia, while the prize for the best story by a young investigative journalist was received by the journalist from Center for Investigate Journalism in Serbia – CINS – Milica Šarić for a series of articles on the thermal power plant Kostolac B and its harmful consequences to the health of the local population.

The decisions on the EU award for investigative journalism in Serbia were taken by the jury comprising of Dr. Rade Veljanovski, professor of Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, Dr. Vladimir Barović, professor of Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, Mladen Velojić, director of the Media Center in Niš, Milan Antonijević, director at Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM, and Ljubica Gojgić, a journalist at RT Vojvodina.

THE FORMER YOGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA

Journalist Aleksandar Dimitrievski won the first prize of this year's EU award for investigative journalism in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the online database and the series of articles regarding crop and livestock subsidies, which were published on BIRN’s local web page Prizma. Dimitrievski’s investigative journalism analyses the connection between part of the subsidies’ beneficiaries and the executive branch of the government as well as suspicious ownership structure of certain companies receiving the subsidies.

Zoran Jovanoski won the second prize for the story “Ashes of Death”, which was featured on the broadcast "360 Stepeni" on Alsat-M TV channel. The story tackles an environmental disaster, which relates to the phenomenon of dramatically increased mortality in the area of Kicevo, resulting from the operation of the thermal power plant Oslomej and the inappropriate treatment of the combusted carbon ashes.

Slavica Filipovska won the prize for the best story by young investigative journalist for her investigative work on the story “Bulgarian Passport for ‘Pure’ Macedonia”, which was featured in the broadcast "360 Stepeni" on Alsat-M TV channel, exposing the attempts of local residents to obtain Bulgarian passport and citizenship to assure themselves a place in an EU Member State.

The jury was composed of Marina Tuneva, Arta Tahiri, Lirim Dulovi, Boris Georgievski and Fatmir Aliu.

TURKEY

The first prize of this year EU award for investigative journalism in Turkey was given to Müzeyyen Yüce of Antalya Körfez, for her story “Nusaybin'den Cizre'ye geleceği kuşatılan çocuklar” (Children from Nusaybin to Cizre whose future is under siege) which covers the conditions in predominantly Kurdish provinces that were subject to curfews, during which security operations and many alleged rights violations took place in 2016. The jury commented on the effort of the journalist for carrying through the investigation in spite of ongoing pressures on journalists and bringing forth an analysis of the past political conflict in the southeast.

The second prize was given to Serbay Mansuroğlu from Birgün for the story “Karaman'da 45 Öğrenciye Tecavüz” (45 students raped in Karaman) which shed light on horrific child abuse in a religious institution, bringing about widespread debate about child abuse cases across the country. The jury argues that the story had a major impact, creating a nationwide outcry against the scandal. Hundreds of thousands of subscribers cancelled their plans with a GSM operator that sponsored the religious institution mentioned in the story.

The third prize for best story by a young investigative journalist was awarded to Hazal Ocak from Cumhuriyet for the piece “Bir orman iki ülke” (One forest two countries) that shows the difference in environment legislation in Bulgaria and Turkey and its consequences; by drawing on the Istıranca (Strandzha) forests that are separated by the Turkish/Bulgarian border.

The jury, chaired by communications professor Arzu Kihtir, was composed of veteran journalists Hasan Cemal, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Çiğdem Toker and human rights lawyer Fikret İlkiz.

Background on the three-year EU Award Scheme

The outcome of the three-year scheme of EU awards for investigative journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey, implemented throughout 2015-2017, has been 64 awarded investigative stories produced by 88 journalists across the region. The awarded stories were selected from a total of 679 nominations.

The Balkan Investigative Journalism Network (BIRN) and centres for investigative journalism (CIN) operating in several countries of the region featured prominently among the awarded investigative stories (receiving a total of 18 out of 64 prizes awarded). Among all winning journalists in 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the whole region, 35 were female (around 40 percent) and 53 were male.

Out of the 64 awarded stories in the course of three years only three stories have been published by public service media: in 2015 by PSM in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in 2016 by PSMs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, the latter in cooperation with BIRN.

Most countries have reported an increase in the interest of journalists to submit their stories, most significantly in the category of best story by a young investigative journalist, which has seen a more than 10 percent increase in nominations since this category was introduced in 2016. Nevertheless, it should be said that the number of collective awards for collaborative stories has decreased significantly since the beginning of the award scheme.

The stories awarded in the course of the three years covered a wide range of aspects of misuse of power and social injustice across the region, amongst the most notorious being corruption and fraud present in state institutions, followed by misconduct in petroleum concessions, shady business deals and mismanagement of public resources such as public funding or police force. The highlighted cases included also life threats faced by Roma, femicide and child abuse in imprisonment, religious institutions and zones of political conflict. Hidden supply of resources to the war in Syria, mishandling of repatriation funds for refugees, irregularities in public procurement, corruption in the management of an EU mission, environmental disasters and its consequences on the health of residents in local communities were also featured in the awarded investigative stories in the three year period.

The total award fund for the three annual contests in the seven beneficiary countries was €210,000. The annual award fund for each country was €10,000, divided among the 1-3 prize winners at the jury’s discretion with €3000- 5000 per individual prize. In three years across the region, the award fund was distributed among a total of 88 winning journalists.

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. The awards were administered by the regional partnership of civil society organizations. The regional scheme has been coordinated by the Peace Institute in Ljubljana. The partners administering the EU awards for investigative journalism in the beneficiary countries have been: 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, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Montenegro Media Institute, Podgorica, Montenegro; Novi Sad School of Journalism, Novi Sad, Serbia, and Platform for Independent Journalism P24, Istanbul, Turkey.

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