The Vienna-based South East Europe Organisation (SEEMO), supported by the Austrian Cooperation Eastern Europe – Austrian Development Agency, and in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Serbia, the International Press Institute (IPI) and the International News Safety Institute (INSI), announces its annual meeting of journalists dedicated to investigative journalism: The 2nd South, Central and East Europe Investigative Journalism Days.
The 2nd South, Central and East Europe Investigative Journalism Days will take place in Belgrade, Serbia, from 27 to 29 June 2011, and will focus on corruption.
The Conference will cover a variety of topics related to investigating corruption, personal security, reporting on extremist politicians – as well as a training session.
Speakers include prominent international journalists and media experts who have firsthand experience in investigative reporting, both on the international and local level. SEEMO registered more than 120 participants.
Serbia´s president Boris Tadic will address the conference on 29 June 2011.
The 2nd South, Central and East Europe Investigative Journalism Days: Focus on Corruption was organized by the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) in Belgrade, Serbia, from 27 to 29 June 2011.
Attended by more than 150 international journalists, the conference was supported by the Austrian Cooperation Eastern Europe – Austrian Development Agency, and involved cooperation with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Serbia, the International Press Institute (IPI), Vienna, Austria, and the International News Safety Institute (INSI), London, UK.
During numerous panel discussions, investigative journalists from Western and Eastern Europe, that is, established and emerging democracies, exchanged their experiences as investigative journalists. There appeared to be agreement that investigating corruption is a dangerous profession in all countries, but that the nature of the threat varies. In established democracies, journalists can face pressure from security services and courts seeking to identify confidential sources, while in emerging democracies in Eastern Europe investigating corruption can be life-threatening. In fact, several journalists who attended the conference had been severely beaten and some arrived with police protection.
Due to the economic crisis and diverse pressures, depending on the country, most media have opted out of investigative journalism: it is expensive, time consuming and dangerous. Yet, all panelists said they would continue with their investigative work.
The following conclusions can be drawn from the conference speeches and debates:
1) Investigative journalism is a dangerous but necessary profession: while investigative journalists suffer different types of pressure because of their work, the nature of the threat differs from country to country: in some countries it is all about surveillance and the revelation of sources. In others, journalists are beaten and killed.
2) In democratic countries the functioning judiciary system prosecutes those who threaten or attack journalists; in transitional democracies the courts and political authorities dismiss threats against journalists as part of their profession. In some countries, journalists are considered instruments of power and institutional mouthpieces.
3) Threats and pressures come from different sources: politicians, the state, business leaders, criminals and in some cases from religious leaders.
4) Those who exert pressure have clear objectives: to force journalists to stop writing and investigating, to desist from pursuing a particular story, and to engage in self-censorship.
5) Journalists consider that denouncing corruption is worth the risk. They continue working despite threats and pressure, and despite friendly advice from colleagues and friends who say: “Do you really have to write about this?”
6) While pressure on investigative journalists exists in most countries, it is in those states where institutions do not function or function poorly-especially the police and the judiciary- where impunity prevails. We call on political authorities to establish functioning institutions. Democracy is not only about elections.
7) Media owners and editors have to protect their journalists. Media workers should not be abandoned once they run into problems. Economic and professional support are essential.
8) Solidarity among journalists is another essential element. Turning away from those who have problems does not take away the problem. Solidarity can be expressed in many ways: spreading the news, showing support, exposing injustice.
9) In that respect, there is a proposal to create a Task Force focused on following police investigations and trials against individuals responsible for attacking journalists. It would be an ad hoc group, financed through an international grant, which would monitor trials, denounce irregularities and inform the public. This task force would strengthen the work of non-governmental organisations like the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).
10) Most speakers underlined the importance of international support in difficult moments. Politicians do not like to be criticized from abroad. That is the role of SEEMO: providing international professional support to threatened journalists and defending press freedom.
11) International support has another important aspect: cross-border cooperation. In practical terms, it implies the exchange of news, information and joint investigation projects.
12) Last but not least, creating formal and informal networks, both national and international, creating teams, building confidence and supporting colleagues are all essential.