Why do some media have the need to hide their ownership in faraway Caribbean States? Why are some journalists afraid to sign their name? Is the money for government advertising a means of bribery and control of the media?
These are a part of the questions discussed by sixteen Bulgarian and Macedonian journalists during the two-day workshop “Who is behind the media?” in Borovets, Bulgaria. The event was held from 14 to 16 October 2016 and strove to explore new approaches in investigative journalism and the best working methods for their implementation in practice. This one-of-a-kind training programme was led by Meri Jordanovska and Saska Cvetkovska, from the “Media Pedia” project for media ownership-mapping in Macedonia, Rossen Bossev, a journalist at the Capital Weekly newspaper, Spas Spasov, a correspondent for Dnevnik.bg, and Atanas Chobanov,a journalist at the Bivol website for investigative reporting. This event was organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Southeast Europe in partnership with the Association of the European Journalists Bulgaria (AEJ) and was developed based on the results from the 2015 seminar “Innovative Journalism: Working with Data, Implementing innovative instruments and the verification of user-generated content.” This FNF-AEJ cooperation in the field of professional journalism in Bulgaria and the region aims at strengthening data use, the use of innovative visualisation tools, as well as the establishment of an informal network of investigative journalists.
The first part of the workshop was officially opened by Daniel Kaddik, FNF`s Project Director for Southeast Europe, and focused on the tools, strategies, and know-how in the area of investigating the real owners of media outlets and their financial sources. Meri Jordanovska and Saska Cvetkovska gave a real-life example of how their team has created a platform where every citizen in Macedonia can check the persons who lead the media in their country. “There is a vicious circle, when television stations in Macedonia quote unconfirmed information coming from internet portals – the latter having unclear ownership. Even though the sources are often displayed, this information is not trustworthy and does not lead back to the true owner”, explained Meri Jordanovska.
According to Saska Cvetkovska, the aim of this concealed media ownership in Macedonia is continuous brain washing of the public at large. Rossen Bossev, on his own behalf, introduced the participants to various public registers and explained the most effective manner to work with them. According to him, investigative journalists should be curious and annoying in order to reach their goal and succeed in objective reporting, especially with regards to public institutions.
Doing these journalistic investigations of the financial dependencies of the regional media in Bulgaria was the central point of Spas Spasov’s presentation on the second day of the workshop. To illustrate this topic, Spasov presented the results of his own investigation of the territory of several municipalities, which clearly showed the strong dependence of local media on government money as well as EU funds, allocated through various communication programmes.
Atanas Chobanov focused on contemporary tools for the visualisation of data and working with the tailored search engines of the investigative portal Bivol.bg. The three mentors gave a practical task to the participants – to work in small groups and to research the real ownership and financial dependences of five Bulgarian media outlets. At the end of the second day, every working group presented their findings to the rest of the participants. The event concluded with a wrap-up session, which summarised the identified best practices in the area of investigative journalism and reporting.
Besides all of this, the participants identified the lack of journalistic investigations and recognised the need for a stronger cooperation among journalists from across the country and the region. This practical workshop was also a moral and emotional support for the practitioners to never give up striving for evidence and proof.