Ivana Jeremić, editor of Balkan Insight and one of the authors of the BIRD projectCredit: Courtesy Ivana Jeremić
More than a third of all media freedom violations reported across Europe in 2018-2019 happened in south-eastern Europe, with governments being behind half of them, according to media freedom monitors.
With the situation worsening, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) has launched a new platform that provides journalists with important tools and resources to continue their work of holding power to account. Journalism.co.uk has caught up with Ivana Jeremić, editor of Balkan Insight and one of the authors of the project, to talk about how this new platform supports investigative journalism in the region and the challenges the media professionals are facing.
Why did you create BIRD?
BIRN Investigative Resource Desk (BIRD) was created by a group of BIRN editors and media experts to create a place where journalists can get all the latest updates on the state of digital freedoms, opportunities within the journalism network, and news covering these topics. We believe that media organisations should work closely to improve the quality of journalism globally and the best thing to do is to exchange knowledge. We wanted to use the potential of BIRN to create something that can be used widely, for free. BIRN has correspondents covering 17 countries and a huge alumni network consisted of journalists from all over Europe.
Who can use BIRD and what are the main features?
BIRD is an interactive platform created for professional and citizen journalists who want to keep up-to-date with the fast-changing world of technology without sacrificing their ethics or the standards of professional journalism. Besides all the tools, how-to guides and databases, BIRD also has a news section where all the relevant events related to digital freedoms, journalism, open data, and protection of human rights in cyberspace will be covered. You can reach us if your digital rights are violated and we can provide you with the legal aid, fact-check and legal check of your stories.
What are the biggest challenges investigative reporters face in southeastern Europe right now?
All the latest reports show that there has been a decrease in media freedoms across the region. There is a democracy crisis and media workers are among the first ones to feel the consequences. The number of attacks on the media is on the rise, including death threats, and inflammatory rhetoric targeting journalists is increasingly coming from government officials. The media has become extremely polarised, with many pro-government outlets flourishing due to their business contracts with public companies, while independent media are struggling to survive the attacks and lawsuits that now have become the main weapon of those in power. The institutions are becoming more reserved towards journalists and it is getting harder to obtain information.
How does BIRD help investigative journalists to counter these threats?
Through the platform, we provide journalists with various types of assistance and a set of tools and resources related to freedom of information, data access and protection, cyber-security and open-source data sets. The platform currently offers 20 different publications on topics such as freedom of information, data protection, journalism sustainability, verifying information and there is more to come in the future. We have also established a free, user-friendly, searchable online library of public documents and scraped databases, called BIRN Source, that contains almost 1.3 million documents, files and records. The numbers will rise as the database is being updated in real-time. The database offers text recognition in multiple and all-local languages. In our How-to’s section users will be able to read case studies and guides done by some of the most prominent journalism experts, such as Blake Morrison, Frederik Obermaier, Benjamin Strick and others.
Another important part of the platform is the regional digital freedom-monitoring database, covering the state of digital rights in southern and eastern Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia). Together with our partner organisation Share Foundation, BIRN journalists will monitor and fact-check cases of digital rights violations across the region as soon as they happen. The database now counts 700 cases, is searchable by different criteria (date, country, affected party, means of the attack, description, attacker, etc.) and is available in both English and the local languages of the countries where the monitoring is being conducted.
How is BIRD financed?
BIRD was financially supported by our donor partners; the European Union, the Austrian Development Agency and the philanthropic organisation Civitates.
What are your plans for the future?
BIRD will be under constant development, updated and upgraded regularly with new data and features. There will also be a community section for our alumni where we will offer them a chance to network and cooperate on different programmes in a secure way. We would also like to encourage our readers to report attacks on individuals and media organisations in the digital sphere. To get all the latest information, follow us on Twitter and Facebook and join our Telegram channel.