A report based on June 2016 Joint International Mission to Croatia warns against government interference in the public broadcaster activities.
This report summarises the findings of a June 21-23, 2016 international media freedom mission to Croatia led by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and including representatives from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Austrian section of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the OSCE joined the mission as an observer.
Delegates held over two dozen meetings with journalists, editors, government officials – including Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović – and representatives from journalist associations and civil society groups to evaluate issues related to media freedom and media independence in the European Union’s newest member state.
The delegation arrived in Zagreb at a time of significant political turmoil, due to the collapse of the HDZ-Most coalition governing the country for six months. According to the report, the visit by the delegation took place in a period of political and societal tension: among the report’s most troubling findings is a rise in nationalistic and revisionist discourse within Croatia’s public sphere that is also being used to intimidate critical media. Leading public figures, including former HDZ head Tomislav Karamarko, have openly expressed a desire to “get rid” of “leftist” media, while journalists and media houses that fail to demonstrate sufficient “patriotism” are routinely smeared by politicians and others as “traitors”.
An illustrative episode is Croatian leaders’ failure to condemn a January 2016 protest against the country’s electronic media regulator in which demonstrators shouted fascist salutes against the regulator’s president, an ethnic Serb. “This silence,” it is noted in the report, “speaks volumes.”
The report highlights government interference at Croatia’s public broadcaster (HRT) as a key challenge to media freedom and media independence in Croatia, pointing to mass staff restructuring and paradigmatic programming change as evidence of “an attempt by the outgoing government to assert control over HRT for its own means”. In March HRT’s director-general was removed and replaced by an acting director who proceeded to demote or reassign approximately 70 journalists and editors as part of what critics have called an ideologically driven “purge”. In July, the HDZ-Most government amended the law to allow the acting director to remain in office through the September election, a move today’s report said was “suspicious” and lent support to charges of deliberate politicisation of the broadcaster.
Among other things, the report also:
– condemns the continued failure by Croatian authorities to fully investigate physical attacks and threats against journalists;
– welcomes recent reforms to protect journalists from Croatia’s criminal ‘shaming’ law, but urges Parliament to repeal all forms of criminal defamation;
– calls on the government to reconsider moves to withdraw funding for minority-language media and non-profit media;
– notes “serious omissions” in monitoring and enforcement regarding legal provisions on transparency of media ownership; and
– underscored the need for solidarity among journalist organisations in the face of threats to media freedom and media independence.