Croatia President: “Shaming law should be scrapped”

Members of the Croatia freedom mission met the President of Vroatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarović (left to right - Jane Whyatt, ECPMF; Scott Griffen, IPI; Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO; Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, President of Croatia; Rubina Moehring, RSF; Renate Schroeder, EFJ; Deniz Yazici, OSCE; Boris Bergant, EBU)

by Jane Whyatt

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and its partner organisations brought a message of solidarity to Croatian journalist Slavica Lukić, a victim of the country’s controversial “shaming” law. And they won an assurance from the President that the law should be abolished.

A European media freedom delegation led by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) visited Croatia to investigate the state of its media landscape. They met with Slavica Lukić, who was one of the first to be accused of this unusual crime of “shaming” or “humiliation” after its introduction in 2013. She explained how the legal case has damaged her career:

Two years ago in April 2014 I was sentenced by a criminal court. It is important to know that journalists in Croatia can be accused by a criminal law and by a civil law. It means that we have double responsibility for our texts. It is also interesting that media owners can be sentenced just by a civil law. Our risk as journalists is much deeper than theirs.“

When truth becomes a crime

As an investigative journalist working for the national daily newspaper Jutarnji List, Lukić had discovered that the Medikol private clinic was in financial difficulties and facing possible bankruptcy – despite receiving 579 million kunas (77 million euros) of public funding. She had checked the facts and they were not disputed. But: under the “shaming” law the accusers, Medikol, only had to prove that they had been “humiliated” by the revelations.

I was sentenced to a fine of twenty-eight thousand kunas (3,700 euros) because of my text about the Medikol private clinic which was financed by our state. And I decided to publish this sentence because it problematised this criminal law. It is very problematic for journalists and I decided to warn them,”

said Lukić.

To sue or not to sue

With this case in mind, the mission team met President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović at the presidential palace. In a fifteen-minute exchange of views on media freedom issues, the President agreed that the crime of “shaming” should be abolished and reminded the delegation that she too had suffered “humiliations” in the press and online media. For example, there are numerous pictures of her on the beach in a skimpy bikini. “But I would never dream of suing” she said.

President Grabar-Kitarović maintained, too, that she supported the independence from political control of the Croatian public service broadcaster HRT.

And she expressed the wish that journalists would refrain from using hate speech. This refers to a new trend in the mainstream and social media – and even on the streets in the form of graffiti – that recalls the verbal hostilities that preceded the Balkan wars, mass murders and atrocities of the 1990s.

Mission to Croatia

From 21 to 23 June, several European media freedom organisations visited Croatia on a fact-finding mission led by SEEMO. In addition to ECPMF, also representatives of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters without Borders (RSF) participated.

This article was originally published by ECPMF