Croatia: Second visit of European media organisations in the country

Jan. 15, 2018 | Legislation and Regulatory Frameworks

As European media organisations again visit Croatia to explore the problems facing the media there, one journalist and editor said that they were likely to find that the situation had got worse since they last came in 2016.

Source: BalkanInsight

European Delegation Puts Croatian Media Freedom Under Spotlight

By Sven Milekic | BIRN Zagreb

After visiting Croatia in June 2016, a European delegation is back in the country for a two-day visit.

The delegation comprises the South East Europe Media Organisation, the European Broadcasting Union, the European Federation of Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Reporters Without Borders and the Association of European Journalists.

The same organisations – without the Association of the European Journalists, but with the addition of the International Press Institute – visited Croatian in June 2016 and found the situation in the media troubled.

A journalist and editor from Croatia meanwhile say nothing in the last year-and-a-half has improved.

The European visitors voiced their concerns in a report published in August 2016, called “Croatia: Media Freedom in Turbulent Times”.

This noted various pressures on journalists, political pressure on the national broadcaster, Croatian Radio-Television, HRT, and cuts to the public funding of non-profit media.

“The situation in media was bad then, but it got worse, especially regarding political pressure on the media and HRT in particular,” Jasmin Klaric, a journalist for the daily Novi list, told BIRN.

He recalled events in December, when the HRT veteran journalist and editor, Milorad Sikanjic faced the sack over comments he had made about Ivan Vrdoljak, head of the junior party in the governing coalition, the Croatian People’s Party, HNS.

Speaking on the HRT radio showon December 19, Sikanjic referred to Vrdoljak as “politically dead” and “a moral corpse”.

Klaric explained that although Sikanjic had remained in post, “solely due to media pressure”, the threat to axe him had “sent a message to other journalists and editors on HRT” not to speak so openly about politicians.

Another case concerning HRT that he mentioned was the recent re-scheduling a comedy film, Ministry of Love, after associations of war widows deemed it “offensive”.

The War Veterans Ministry failed to deny reports that the minister had urged HRT not to show the film, which – if true – would represent a breach of the law on HRT, which states that the broadcaster should be “free of any political pressure”.

Klaric also mentioned other cases of pressure on journalists over the last year, including the threats that some journalists had received after the suicide in court of the former Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak.

"Although the police reacted promptly to some of then, it nevertheless created a special atmosphere,” Klaric said.

Praljak committed suicide before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, drinking poison on November 29, just moments after the court confirmed his 20-year prison sentence for war crimes committed against Bosniaks in 1993-94.

Media outlets and journalists in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina received threats for their reporting on the issue.

Klaric also mentioned Croatian government claims that the media are engaged in a form of "hybrid warfare" against Croatia in November, which he said had “helped to create a negative atmosphere concerning journalism”.

On the other side, he saw sopme progress in the full affirmation of the regionalmedia hub N1, launched by under auspices of CNN and the London-based Turner Broadcasting System Europe in October 2014, calling it “a solid place of freedom and serious journalistic work”.

Nikola Bajto, editor-in-chief of the weekly Novosti, said the fact that Croatia is the only EU member country being visited by organisations concerned with media freedoms should "speak a lot by itself”.

“This shows that these organisations are aware of the crumbling of the media freedoms in Croatia,” he told BIRN.

He emphasised the problems in HRT, where he complained of “a nationalistic purge of a type that has not been seen since the war years of the 1990s”.

Bajto named numerous editors and journalists who had been sacked or moved, adding that many TV and radio shows had been axed despite solid ratings.

Bajto said the poor situation in the media had started under the controversial former Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic in January 2016, and had continued since; the government had not restored funding for independent media cancelled by Hasanbegovic, for example.

Both Bajto and Klaric praised two successful crowdfunding campaigns of independent non-profit websites and Lupiga, which successfully raised money from readers after losing stating support.

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, placed Croatia 74th on the global list. Bulgaria is the only EU country with worse index, in 109th place. fell-since-2016-01-15-2018