Recently there have been several new developments in the Croatian media sector, almost universally deemed as retrograde compared to a situation from just a few months ago.
SEE Media Observatory held a round table on good practices in protection of media integrity in SEE, in Sarajevo on 14 April. Several of Croatian examples scheduled to be presented as good practices have in fact been dismantled in the period from January on.
Just five days after assuming office, the new state Minister of Culture, Zlatko Hasanbegović, dissolved the Commission for Non-profit Media, a body in charge of the Ministry’s grant-making and oversight of grantees in the non-profit media sector. The remaining duties of the Commission are now done by the Minister personally – on top of his other duties, he is overseeing the implementation of the approved non-profit media projects until their contracts run out in 2016.
With February and March came more bad news. There are no funds for non-profit media allocated to the Ministry of Culture in the State Budget for 2016, and the budget line for non-profit media already planned as part of the European Social Fund Operational Program for 2016, a bit over 4 million Euro, has been transferred to 2017 with the official explanation that it would be “too difficult bureaucratically to implement the program this year”. While part of the funds directly allocated to media have been cancelled, some media outlets got funding under the different grant scheme of the Ministry of Culture, the one for publishers. There was a lot of discontent, mostly from the left-leaning media outlets, with the manner in which funds were distributed.
If we take into consideration the fact that “in the contemporary media landscape the critical voices and public interest advocates mainly come from small media enterprises to a large extent financed through the state budget from various programs of the Ministry of Culture” (Popović, Media Integrity Matters, 2014), the set of measures taken by the new Ministry of Culture could be interpreted as an attack on institutional support for media pluralism.
Amidst several other concerning recent events (such as sudden staff changes on the public broadcaster HRT, terminations of work contracts, or physical assaults), Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) decided to mark the World Press Freedom Day with a series of events.
On 2 May 2016 a protest walk from CJA headquarters to the Ministry of Culture was followed by an international conference on problems of media freedoms in Europe, supported by Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung and French, Norwegian and Swedish embassies.
The next day CJA, together with the US Embassy, organized a discussion on the media’s role in safeguarding democracy and the corresponding responsibility of the media to play that role with integrity. President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović was present, alongside US Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes. Journalists and civil society representatives in over 15 countries across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East participated in the live-streamed event and could witness civil society activists protesting over recent developments in media.
While the series of tumultuous events in Croatian media is likely to continue, some non-profit media outlets are eagerly awaiting calls for applications from the state Office of Cooperation with NGOs. This funding is not directly aimed at media but some media outlets are eligible to apply. In cooperation with the state administration, the Office of Cooperation with NGOs organized Info Days 2016, on 16th and 17th May. General information about tenders for financing projects and programs of civil society organizations from public sources for 2016 (the state budget, funds from gambling, EU funds and other public sources) were presented, with the note that various tenders will be made public within a short period of time. Even though the calls are usually published much earlier, given the context, late is better than never.
The photos provided by Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA)
The article was originally published on 20/5/2016 by South East European Media Observatory.