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Legal Leaks training in Belgrade: Truth seeking requires skills

Belgrade was the fifth and final stop of the Legal Leaks training tour for media professionals in South East Europe. The workshop in Belgrade, held on 16 and 17 June 2014, was opened by Rodoljub Sabic, Serbian Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, who highlighted the importance of journalists for public debate and their need for access to information to reinforce the role they play in society.

“Truth seeking requires skills,” he told the group of around 30 journalists present at the training from around the country.

The event was organized by UNESCO in cooperation with Access Info Europe, the Press Council of Serbia and the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM).

On the first day, Access Info Europe presented an updated version of the Legal Leaks Toolkit tailored to the Serbian legal framework and available in the local language. Journalists shared their experiences using access to information laws and raised several important issues, such as exceptions to the right to access information and the right of access to emails.

In the afternoon session, Natalija Cetkovic, Assistant to the General Secretary of the Commissioner, explained in detail the procedure for accessing information in Serbia. Some journalists took the chance to ask relevant questions such as whether a blogger is considered as a journalist under the Serbian access to information law. Vladimir Radomirovic, editor-in-chief of Pistaljka (The Whistle), a whistleblowing website that publishes investigative stories on corruption in Serbia, explained the challenges of leaking information in Serbia.

On the second day, the training focused on media self-regulation and data journalism. Ljiljana Smajlovic, President of the Press Council and also of the Journalists Association of Serbia (UNS), explained how Serbia follows the Norwegian model, encouraging balance and right of reply in articles even before they are published and seeking to ensure “fast, free, and fair” findings in case of complaints. Most papers were keen not to be found at fault by the Press Council. Their definition of journalism includes editorial intervention, in contrast with a blogger or citizen putting information online. The role of the editor includes ensuring compliance with ethical standards. She added that given the role of the media in Serbia’s recent history “we need to be even more fanatical about ethics than the Scandinavians.”

In another session, Aleksandar Djordjević, a journalist from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), spoke about data journalism and gave practical information on which tools are available to help journalists analyse large volumes of data. Djordjević also presented the website Javno (“Public”), an open and searchable database containing thousands of documents on public spending, set up by BIRN in 2010.

Danko Nikolic and Marko Milosevic spoke about the information request website (“For all of us to know”), the Serbian adaptation of the Alaveteli platform for requesting information from public bodies. They said the website was launched on 7 May 2014 and that all journalists are encouraged to make use of it.

The event took place in the framework of the EU-UNESCO project: “Promoting Media Accountability in South East Europe and Turkey,” which started in January 2013.

Presentation of the legal leaks contest

As part of the five Legal Leaks trainings that took place during the month of June across South East Europe, Access Info Europe and UNESCO, in partnership with the EU Commission, are organizing a contest for journalists who took part in these courses.

Journalists are invited to write a story based on one or more access to information requests they have previously made. The article must be written in English and up to 2,000 words. The jury will positively rate articles based on access to information requests filed in different countries. For details related to the training contest, please see: