Croatia - 2014 Media Report

Croatia became the newest member of the European Union in 2013, and in the course of the accession period harmonised its media legislation comprehensively with European standards. However, Croatia is short on independent and quality media outlets, there is strong self-censorship in some media companies, and advertising companies influence editorial policy. Very often there is no clear line between journalism, advertising and PR. Private television and radio is focused on entertainment, while the public outlet RTV is under the influence of political parties. Disproportionate libel fines equal to 150 average salaries are part of civil legal regulations. Additionally, changes in some legal acts connected to criminal defamation are still needed.

In December 2014, according to Croatian regulator HAKOM, 1.35 million people in Croatia used the landline telephone networks, which was about 75,000 less than in December 2013. The number of mobile phone subscribers exceeded 4.46 million, or about 450,000 less. The number of broadband Internet connections was 1.34 million, or nearly 7,000 less than at the end of 2013.

In 2014, cases of convictions and pending charges against journalists for criminal defamation and insult in Croatia became internationally well-known. Late in March, the Zagreb Municipal Court found Slavica Lukic from Jutarnij list daily guilty of defamation in a case brought against her by Ivanka Trstenjak Rajkovic, co-owner of the Medikol clinic. Lukic can appeal the ruling. The other case involved journalist Vladimir Matijanić. The chairman of the Media Committee of the Sabor (Croatian Parliment), Branko Vuksic of the Labour Party, condemned her conviction and called for amendment of the law that allows journalists to be tried for defamation. "This is a disgrace. I, as a member of Parliament and chairman of the Committee on the Media, condemn this conviction and demand that the Ministry of Justice harmonise the law with European practice as soon as possible and remove the provision of the Criminal Code under which journalists may be held to account for defamation, if they say the truth," Vuksic told the media.

According to Article 148 of the Criminal Code, introduced 2013, the court may sentence a journalist if the information published is not considered to be of public interest. With amendments, it could specifically exclude liability for factual journalistic work in the public interest. During a SEEMO visit to Croatia in November 2014, Mladen Novak, chair of the parliamentary Committee on Information, Computerisation and the Media, called criminal defamation laws “unacceptable” and committed to start discussions on their possible removal. Separately, Justice Committee Chair Josip Kregar agreed that references to defamation should be “eliminated” from the Croatian Criminal Code. However Justice Minister Orsat Miljenić did not accepted during a meeting with SEEMO that shaming and all other forms of defamation should be fully removed from the Criminal Code.

Access to information is regulated according to international standards, but it is difficult for journalists to request and obtain information from the government and other state institutions.

In January 2014 Nada Prkacin, working for the daily show TV Calendar on Croatian public RTV HRT, was blamed for the unauthorised use of material from the Croatian national television archives to make two films that were sympathetic to the general Ante Gotovina. As result, she was fired from her job.

On 12 March 2014, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), said that it was worried about a number of recent incidents of pressure on journalists and media in Croatia. Ante Tomic, a writer and columnist with the daily Jutarnji List, reported that he was attacked on Feb. 23, while sitting in a cafe in the town centre of Split. An unknown man dumped a bucket of faeces over Tomic’s head. Tomic said the man told him: “Now you can write about me again”. SEEMO said it supported the Croatian Journalists Association (Hrvatsko novinarsko drustvo) in its calls for police to apprehend the assailant as soon as possible.

In another case, SEEMO expressed shock at reports that Carnival participants in the town of Omis burned an effigy symbolising Vinko Vukovic, a journalist from the daily Slobodna Dalmacija who reported on corruption in the town. Local sources attributed the incident to supporters of a local politician. SEEMO also said that it was surprised by accounts of pressure from Croatian financial authorities on the critical news portal Index.hr, which in recent years has reported on financial and other affairs in Croatia and neighbouring countries.

In August 2014, SEEMO condemned the attack on Croatian journalist Domagoj Magretic in Zagreb. The journalist was left with injuries after he was attacked by an unknown man during the night. The police are searching for the perpetrator. Magretic stated that he had received threats several times in 2013 because of his articles.

In September 2014, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), became concerned over a ruling by the Zagreb Municipal Civil Court that ordered the commercial broadcaster RTL to pay compensation of 50,000 HRK to the mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandic. RTL Daily aired an interview with PM Zoran Mihajlovic on 20 May 2013, in which he made remarks about the mayor. Bandic then pressed charges against RTL for false allegations, saying they violated his reputation, dignity and honour. SEEMO and its members fully support the requests of the Croatian Journalist Association (HND), demanding that the provision on punishable defamation should be withdrawn from the Penal Code. Media legislation should not be used as a disciplinary tool for censoring and silencing journalists and media outlets. Statements made by public officials should be published freely, instead of used as a weapon in the courtroom. As the newest EU member state, Croatia must try to adhere to democratic principles and show greater support for media freedom.

In November the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) was concerned to learn that the Croatian Minister of Health, Sinisa Varga, allegedly made discriminating accusations against some Croatian journalists. While making a guest appearance on a TV channel N1 show, Minister Varga was asked to comment on claims regarding his conflict of interest, mentioned in several articles and investigative stories. He not only disregarded the statements, but also added that there are “enough indicators“ to safely say that a group of journalists are motivated to write critically because of bribes they receive.

In December 2014, The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) expressed its concerned over the latest occurrences in Croatia. Dujomir Marasovic, the MP of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) stated during a Parliament session that once the new government is elected, which he believed he would be a part of, the first thing on the agenda would be to “wipe clean“ the current staff and authorities of national public broadcaster Croatian Radio and TV, HRT. He was immediately criticised by members of other parties and the Parliament President for his outburst of animosity. The Croatian Journalists’ Association called it a classical and primitive political threat, and stated that they will work hard to inform both the Croatian and European public about the hate speech terminology used amongst the country’s politicians. “SEEMO supports the Croatian Journalists Association, the public broadcaster HRT and all those who could be affected by such foul language and dangerous discourse, coming from a political representative, “ SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic has said.

In March 2014, after it was announced that the premises of Rijeka daily Novi List were visited by police, its staff issued an open letter to the public, warning that this period may be remembered as the time when Novi List stopped publishing.