25 journalists honoured with the 2017 EU Investigative Journalism Awards

 25 journalists honoured with the 2017 EU Investigative Journalism Awards
The 2017 regional scheme of EU awards for investigative journalism in Western Balkans and Turkey rewarding the best investigative stories published in 2016 is brought to an end, thus concluding the three-year award scheme 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.
Altogether 237 nominations for stories published in 2016 were considered in seven participating countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey). Out of those, 25 journalists were awarded for their investigative work on 21 stories. In comparison with the previous year when teams of journalists were authors of number of the winning stories, this time most of the stories were authored by individual journalists.
This year, the awarded stories covered a wide range of societal issues, namely connected to corruption and abuse of power in local and state institutions including the coverage of attempted state capture by the underground and misuse of power by political party officials, but also procurement and subsidies controversy, irregularities in energetics business, tax fraud, environmental disasters and abuse of children. Some stories have 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 the 2017 winning stories are Žurnal online magazine (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Alsat-M TV channel (Macedonia) and 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, Macedonia and Serbia).
Independent juries in each of seven beneficiary countries awarded the top prizes as follows:
This year’s first prize for 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.
Finally, 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 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 that constituted 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, had to make a difficult selection among 28 nominees.
Valbona Sulce, a member of the jury, said that predominance of young journalists among the nominations is a good sign for the future of investigative journalism in Albania. 
First prize in this year's contest for 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. 
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“. Boris Kontić, the director of Mediacentar Sarajevo and chairman of the jury, said that the Dizdarević “managed to tell a complicated story of breach during privatization in simple terms and to explain the complex mechanisms of arranged transactions, money laundering and government silence.”
The decision concerning the awards was made by a jury consisting of Boro Kontić, Belma Bećirbašić, Helena Mandić, Tanja Topić and Zoran Ivančić with Kontić pointing out that „The content of the stories suggests that misuse of privatization and control over energy resources seem to be main topics of investigative journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also the main target of local bandit politics.”
„The award shows how much we value investigative journalism. Free, diverse and independent media are indispensable to promoting and protecting democracy worldwide“, said Khaldoun Sinno, deputy head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, emphasizing that the country had the highest number of nominations this year, 64 out of 237 in the whole region, and that the jury didn't have an easy task while making the decision. 
The absolute winner of the EU award for investigative journalism in Kosovo for the achievements in 2016 was 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 (KLA) – today’s leaders of high institutions and political parties.
The jury stressed the importance and impact of Kerquki’s story, arguing that “the story generated a thorough debate in public, exposing important facts that show the way these people were enriched.”
The second award 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 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, the 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. This year, the jury was choosing among 32 nominees.
Journalist Aleksandar Dimitrievski won the first prize of EU award for investigative journalism in Macedonia for 2016 for the online database and the series of articles regarding crop and livestock subsidies, which were published on BIRN Macedonia’s 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 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 awards were handed by the head of the Delegation of the European Union to Macedonia, Samuel Žbogar, who highlighted that being an investigative journalist is stressful, difficult and often dangerous. He underlined that “in spite of all this, they are brave and stubbornly committed to doing their job. And we cannot do less than showing our admiration for them”.
Among 32 stories nominated in Macedonia, the winning stories were assessed by the jury composed of Marina Tuneva, Arta Tahiri, Lirim Dulovi, Boris Georgievski and Fatmir Aliu. The chair of the jury, Marina Tuneva, complimented the tenacity of investigation and expression of truth. “At the same time, we encourage the editors to support the process of writing investigative pieces, especially when a journalist had discovered corruption related topics and issues that deserve to be treated thoroughly and extensively,” she said.
The main prize of the EU award for investigative journalism in Montenegro for the works published in 2016 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.” 
Second award 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 jury underlined that the journalists “succeed in making a balanced story that suggests a potentially serious and systemic misuse of public resources at the municipality level.”
The third award, 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 comprising of Dr. Olivera Komar (president), Dragoljub Vuković, Snežana Nikčević, Sonja Drobac and Olivera Nikolić selected the winners, while the awards were presented by Plamena Halacheva, head of Political European Integration and Trade Section in the Delegation of the EU to Montenegro.
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.
President of the jury Ljubica Gojgić emphasized the consistent omission of investigative journalism from the traditional media in Serbia and its enclosure to independent investigative centres and specialized internet portals. “The so-called mainstream media is consistently ignoring even the most significant discoveries of the investigative sector, preventing a great number of citizens from getting the information of public interest.” The award ceremony was attended by Noora Hayrinen, head of Political Section at the EU Delegation to Serbia who addressed the audience, stressing the importance of investigative journalism. 
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 jury was entrusted to make a selection out of 24 of this year’s nominees.
The main 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. 
Deputy head of the European Union Delegation to Turkey, Gabriel Munuera Vinals, said the EU has been following developments regarding press freedoms in Turkey and the trials of many imprisoned journalists, adding that the EU is ready to support journalism and investigative journalism efforts.
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. They had to make a tough selection out of 40 stories nominated this year. 
The outcome of the three-year scheme of EU awards for investigative journalism in Western Balkans and Turkey, implemented in 2015, 2016 and 2017, have been 64 awarded investigative stories produced by  88 journalists across the region. The awarded stories were selected from a total of 679 nominations. 
Balkan Investigative Journalism Network (BIRN) and centers for investigative journalism (CIN) operating in several countries of the region were featured prominently among the awarded investigative stories (receiving a total of 18 out of 64 prizes awarded). It points to the role of independent, non-profit investigative journalism centers and networks in production of quality investigative journalism in the region. 
Among all winning journalists in 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the whole region, 35 were female (around 40 percent) and 53 were male (around 60 percent). 
It is important to note the lack of engagement of public service media (PSM) in the region in production and publishing of investigative stories. 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 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. 
Among the seven participating countries, it was in Bosnia and Herzegovina where most nominations were submitted each year, although it should be stressed that Turkey has registered a significant increase in submissions despite the difficult circumstances surrounding the journalist profession. 
The stories awarded in the course of 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 seven beneficiary countries was 210,000 euro. The annual award fund for each country was 10,000 euro, divided among the 1-3 prize winners at the jury’s discretion with 3000- 5000 euro per individual prize. In three years across the region, the award fund was distributed among a total of 88 winning journalists, which have therefore received a prize of 2386 euro on average.
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, selected for that task by the European Commission. 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, Macedonia; Montenegro Media Institute, Podgorica, Montenegro; Novi Sad School of Journalism, Novi Sad, Serbia, and Platform for Independent Journalism P24, Istanbul, Turkey.