Balkan Investigative Reporting Network
About the Grantee
Following years of discord, strife, and armed conflict that ended in 1999, the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) stepped in to internationally govern the region. Nearly a decade later, in 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and created its own constitution. The plan for Kosovo’s independence called for a supervisory role of UNMIK as the interim governing body, but with a limited executive power. Wedged in limbo between UNMIK regulations and emergence of any type of effective governing structure, Kosovo was left facing a large democratic deficit with little to no accountability, a dysfunctional judicial system, rampant corruption, zero transparency, and inadequate health and education services.
Kosovo’s legal system has been in flux since 1999, and is a jumble of former Yugoslavian legislation, UNMIK regulations, and new administrative directions and laws passed by the Kosovo Assembly. There is a lack of understanding of which laws supersede each other, no official legal procedures regarding publication of laws, and a general sense of ‘legal chaos.’ Understanding human rights regulations is murky at best, and health and education services have faced years of neglect, under-funding, and nepotism. Unfortunately, these concerns are only a piece of the overarching dissension that plagues the state.
With its newly found independence, however, a platform has emerged for Kosovo’s politicians, civil activists, journalists, and general public to start focusing on the issues at hand despite being constrained by the nation’s transitional status. The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Kosovo (BIRN Kosovo) is the very first Kosovar organization to engage in issues of accountability and transparency, highlight deficiencies at both the central and local levels, and engage citizens in just and open debates of issues facing the nation. A regional organization that has affiliated organizations throughout the Western Balkans, BIRN Kosovo focuses on investigative journalism and training young journalists, specifically in the areas of legal justice, health, and education.
Since its emergence in 2004, BIRN has become a trusted and well-respected player in the probing and analyzing of key transition issues in the post-war nation. With support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, BIRN successfully hosted the “Municipal Election Debates” in 2007, watched by a half million people in Kosovo, a nation of only two million. Filling a major gap in the election campaign and setting the agenda for the discussions, these debates were often the only access for the public regarding the election and the only visibility for mayoral candidates of small towns.
Following the debates’ success, the Fund has continued to support BIRN’s Monitoring of Public Services Project, a plan that seeks to expand its reach and further strengthen the network of monitors focused on key public service improvements in the areas of the courts, health, and schools; increase accessibility of the media in decision making; and provide key qualitative and quantitative data on such issues to stakeholders and the general public. The project also has an educational component, as it is currently training a group of 10 journalists in investigative reporting methods and techniques, including two who have already received accolades for their work.
This project is intertwined with BIRN Kosovo’s television show Jeta ne Kosovo (“Life in Kosovo”), the state’s second most viewed and influential current affairs program, with 350,000 viewers per week. Hosted by Jeta Xharra, BIRN Kosovo’s leader, the show has a primetime spot on national public television and uses the monitoring findings from the project to serve as a pressure tool and platform for societal discussions and a voice of change. Focused specifically on investigative reports and debates, the attraction and participation of high-level decision makers in the program indicates growing success in the area of media and civil accessibility in influencing change in judicial, health, and educational concerns. It is change that is necessary for democracy, but complicated in a transitional state.
“Just after the second episode of BIRN’s Life in Kosovo show was broadcast, I kept receiving phone calls from various people asking various questions such as: where did you find [Jeta Xharra];why is she questioning people like that;how many more such shows are you going to air;can you stop that?” explained Agim Zatriqi, general director of Radio Television Kosovo, the network that broadcasts the influential, albeit controversial to some, program.
To date, the Monitoring of Public Services Project has had several key successes including identifying the most critical issues facing the justice, health, and education systems; changing the attitudes and behaviors of public servants; inciting legal action against those who violate their positions; and the creation of a new Justice segment that is broadcast weekly on Life in Kosovo. But in a nation that tends to curb freedom of speech, the work of BIRN is not without everyday challenges. Death threats against Xharra and an attack on a reporting team by security guards of the Kosovo Judicial Council, however, are not enough to halt the mission of the team. “I can say now, with full responsibility, that the BIRN team, which is rapidly growing, is able to deal with any topic,” said Zatriqi. “There is no theme that they have no guts to investigate and broadcast. There is not a single issue that this team is afraid of.”
As UNMIK dissolves and an ambitious mandate for establishing rule of law in Kosovo emerges in a short time, the state will likely face some of its most complex challenges to date. The BIRN team will continue to advocate for measurable results in the areas of Kosovar justice, health, and education, and plans to expand into other areas through balanced, impartial, and relevant reporting, while helping to lead the state out of limbo and into the free world of democracy.