FIND Albania: Empowering Investigative Journalists in Tackling Corruption and Abuse of Power


Background

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Communist system, liberation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression took place; decentralization of media outlets and the promotion of independent voices were encouraged, with numerous laws being passed to counterweight half-a-century-long censorship and a total control over both private and public life. Whilst notable improvements in both judicial, political as well as societal spheres within Albania have taken place, media landscape and the position of the journalists in society remains fragile.

The Freedom House report in 2017, “Nations in Transit”, highlighted that Albanian media is vulnerable due to the lack of economic viability and the high level of informal working conditions for many journalists. In 2018 for the second year in a row, Freedom Houseraised the same problem by adding more structural problems which included self-censorship as well as the close relations that exist between politics, business and the media. In 2017, many journalists continued to work without a job contract, while an overwhelming majority of them did not receive their salaries on time and faced the risk of being fired. This situation further fueled self-censorship among journalists. This situation was further highlighted by a research conducted by the Balkans Investigative Research Network, in cooperation with the Reporters without Borders[1], which concluded that media ownership concentration and lack of pluralism in the field contribute greatly to censorship and self-censorship amongst journalists.

The dire situation where media professionals lack a free and independent platform where to publish their works without fear of repercussions was also noted by the international freedom of expression mission to Albania, comprised of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO)[2]. In its preliminary report, this fact-finding mission highlighted that Albania, is not living up to its obligations to guarantee and safeguard freedom of expression and press freedom as required under Albanian law and international instruments including the European Convention on Human Rights.

Qualitative journalism is a cornerstone in a professional and independent media sector. It is a necessary supplement to the daily news reporting in order to provide the public with trustworthy and objective analysis of the more complex phenomena in society – for example decisions of authorities, corruption, organized crime as well as key issues of daily life. Practicing investigative journalism requires, in addition to the basic skills of quality news reporting, advanced researching skills and special techniques and knowledge.

New disciplines such as Computer Assisted Reporting (data journalism), big data etc. have become part of modern journalism and new ones are added with the rapid development of technology and new media, and the corresponding explosion of data and information available. In addition to a high level of professional skills, quality journalism requires time, manpower and financial resources, which are seldom afforded to Albanian professionals by their employers and place of work. Where the daily news reporter may produce several stories in a day, an investigative journalist might need months to research a story and have facts and legal aspects checked.

All analyses show that qualitative and trustworthy journalism is weak in the Western Balkans and more or less absent in the mainstream media. The reasons are several, all deducible from the above: Poor human and financial resources in the mainstream media and indirect, or direct, outside influence preventing publishing of stories critical to owners’ interest and or people in power, all the while professionalism and will to follow hard hitting topics exists, but fear of repercussions being a limiting factor.


About the Project

“FIND Albania: Empowering Investigative Journalists in Tackling Corruption and Abuse of Power” is an initiative supported by the US Embassy in Tirana, and implemented jointly by the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism, the Albanian Media Institute and the FOL Center, for a span of 18 months, with a view of supporting the media landscape and independent professionals in the field to widen their views and present a pluralistic context that increases transparency and accountability as well as expose corruption.

The initiative plans to implement 3 core activities in all regions of the country: (1) the setup of an Investigative Journalism Platform (titled Freelance Investigative News Database), (2) the award of Individual Grants for Journalists, and (3) the award of Small-Medium Grants for Media organizations and TV stations.


Investigative Journalism Platform (Freelance Investigative News Database)

The online platform will serve as an alternative informational space for Albanian society, that produces independent and professional content. All the investigative stories and other project related information will be shared on this page. It will also be used as a tool for multiplying the message.

The platform will have a dedicated space for each form of production, from the long form investigative articles, to the ones integrating multimedia components such as graphics, storyboards, video montages, a dedicated space for video productions as well as television programs that will be simultaneously aired on the subgrantees’ outlets and on the platform Live.

One further element which will be included in the platform, new to the Albanian media environment is the Web-Gis format service, which will provide mapping locations for topical issues, which are intricately connected with a specific region of the country. Further to the categorization of stories in different categories such as economic, social, dossier, crime, corruption etc., the readers/viewers will have the possibility of accessing an integrated map on the website, which will show the stories and other productions to be published on a regional level through pop-up windows, allowing access to stories based on a regional level. This user interface, further to the localization of stories to their regional link will allow for ease of use, where users are not limited only to scrolling infinitely to find a story they request, or use the search function of the site, but can just click to the region of the country on the map and access all the stories linked to that region and possible crosscutting articles, regulated by a well-established reference system.


Small Grants for Journalists

The focus of this initiative is the support of freelance journalists, to conduct investigations which will put governance accountability and corruption related topics, in the media agenda, as well as raise the understanding of these issues among the general population.


Lot 1 – Grants for Individual Journalists

Through this lot, the scheme provides for support for up to 30 journalists/stories in the amount of $1,300.00 (Gross), which will be paid to the journalists at the moment of submission of the story and final approval by the Compliance Officer for publication on the platform. These small grants will provide the journalists with the possibility of covering of their honorarium and all possible incurred expenses for the production of their story such as travel and lodging, expert fees etc.

The stories to be produced will be selected by an Editorial Board comprised of representatives from all three centers of the consortium, as well as a representative of the US Embassy in Tirana. The call for proposals will be open throughout the entirety of the period of implementation of the project, with the Editorial Board meeting on a monthly basis for evaluation of proposals and approval of prospective stories to be commissioned and eventually published on the platform. The eligibility criteria for all prospective applicants, as well as the mandatory elements for the makeup of the articles will be approved by the Editorial Board and be made available on the platform’s notice board on a perpetual basis for all interested parties.


Lot 2 – Grants for Individual Journalists for Articles including Multimedia Elements

Through this lot, the scheme provides for support for up to 25 journalists/stories in the amount of $1,500.00 (Gross), which will be paid to the journalists at the moment of submission of the story and final approval by the Compliance Officer for publication on the platform. These small grants will provide the journalists with the possibility of covering of their honorarium and all possible incurred expenses for the production of their story such as travel and lodging, expert fees etc., as well as possible fees for video editors and multimedia production costs.

As with the Lot 1 grants, the stories to be produced will be selected by the aforementioned Editorial Board. The call for proposals will be open throughout the entirety of the period of implementation of the project, with the Editorial Board meeting on a monthly basis for evaluation of proposals and approval of prospective stories to be commissioned and eventually published on the platform. The eligibility criteria for all prospective applicants, as well as the mandatory elements for the makeup of the articles will be approved by the Editorial Board and be made available on the platform’s notice board on a perpetual basis for all interested parties. Further to the elements mandatory to the investigative articles for Lot 1, applicants for this lot will be obliged to include in their stories’ multimedia elements, such as short videos, interviews, user friendly interactive graphs, charts etc.

On specific occasions, depending on noteworthy developments in the social and economic life of the country, the Board will publish calls for proposals with topical issues, closely linked to the state of affairs at the moment of the call.


Lot 3 – Small Grants for Collaborative Efforts (Groups of Journalists)

Through this lot, the scheme provides for support for up to 10 groups of journalists in the amount of up to $5,000.00 (Gross), which will be paid to the journalists at the moment of submission of the story and final approval by the Compliance Officer for publication on the platform. This form of financing will provide the journalists with the possibility of covering more sensitive or broader topics which require a collaborative effort ad sometimes, not just a cross country approach to the story, but also a cross border one.

Through this scheme, the journalists will be able to cover not just their honorarium, but also possible higher expenses due to the nature of the story such as travel and lodging, expert fees etc. For this form of financing, the applicants will be required to submit a simple budget form to justify the expenses envisaged to be incurred, based on the terms of reference to be published on the platform. However, this justification of the expenses will not require further reporting to the project team or Editorial board.


Grants for Media NGO-s and Television Networks

The granting opportunity for media organizations and TV channels aims to promote the voice of civil society through strengthening non-governmental media organizations but also to reach a broader audience through professional investigations through the latter and Albanian television networks.

This element of the financial support scheme aims at the production and publication of more qualitative output through the involvement of television networks (Lot 5), but also the raising of capacities of media NGO-s (Lot 4) and the promotion of cooperation of these organizations with other civil society actors who have specialized knowledge on the topics to be produced through the activities envisaged to be implemented and stories to be produced.


Lot 4 – Small-Medium Grants for Media NGO-s

Through this lot, the scheme provides for support for up to 5 media NGO-s in the amounts of $13,000.00 to $15,000.00, for the covering of expenses for the implementation of the envisaged activities. Through this scheme, the NGO-s will be able to cover a larger number of expenses than individual journalists and provide for particular knowledge and expertise in the production process.

For the purposes of allotment of these grants, the working group will publish a call for proposals for any interested NGO with preset selection criteria and output elements, approved by the Editorial Board. The allotted time for implementation of activities to the subgrant award recipients will be of 10 to 11 months from the time of conclusion of the sub-grant contract. As with the individual journalists and groups of journalists, all productions submitted by these NGO-s will strictly adhere to the editorial policy of the platform and the visibility guidelines of the project.


Lot 5 – Small-Medium Grants for Television Networks

Through this lot, the scheme provides for support for 2 television networks in the amounts of $20,000.00, for the covering of production expenses for investigative programs to be broadcasted. Through this element of the scheme, the current proposal aims to raise the interest of national visual media outlets in creating analytical and investigative programs that will seek to shed light upon and take an in-depth look at issues that are major in terms of public concern, but minor in the way they are covered in the Albanian media at present

The financial lot will require that all applicants provide a cofounding support of 20%, in addition to the financial support granted by the project.

For the purposes of allotment of these grants, the working group will publish a call for proposals for any interested television network with preset selection criteria and output elements, approved by the Editorial Board. The allotted time for implementation of activities to the subgrant award recipients will be of 10 to 11 months from the time of conclusion of the sub-grant contract. As with the individual journalists and groups of journalists, all productions submitted by these awardees will strictly adhere to the editorial policy of the platform and the visibility guidelines of the project.