Saša Leković: I’m really sorry that the situation in Croatian journalism is as bad as the CJA warned

Sasa Lekovic, president of the Croatian Journalists' Association (CJA/HND)

International media freedom  associations and organizations issued their report about media situation in Croatia and political pressures on media (“Croatia: Media Freedom in Turbulent Times”) which was presented on Thusday, August 9 at  Novinarski Dom (“Journalist’s home”). At the press conference “The integrity of the media and journalists in Croatia’ president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) Sasa Leković said that CJA thoroughly warns of many problems that impede the freedom of the media in Croatia such as limit of journalists integrity and not able to freely do their job.

We asked CJA’s President Saša Leković were the results of the report on Croatia surprising for him, he said that they weren’t.

I was not surprised by the results, because the Croatian Journalists’ Association warned and warned for months exactly on what proved to be the most important thing in this report. So, in some ways, a strange situation because we are now presenting a report that is not ours, but of many other international organizations, very responsible and important, but as if we had written it. On the one hand that shows that we were right, but on the other hand, as much as it seems a contradiction here, I’m sorry, because it means that the situation is really that bad as we have warned in the past. It’s a little bizarre, but it is the truth. And that’s why we decided to translate the report and to put it on the entire web page in the original and in the Croatian language, precisely to avoid this kind of manipulation.   I just gave highlights from the report, but there is always a possibility that I interpreted this to correspond CJA, however, when we put the complete report, then it’s very clear and evident what the report says, you can check with all members of the delegation whether they actually agreed and signed the report. The report will be on their website and will be sent to all of our and European institutions.

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).

It is concluded that ‘informal’ limits to free expression, which can be more easily disguised and hence denied, are at work in Croatia. These limits include excessive political influence in the media as well as politically motivated discourse that seeks to undercut critical journalism by singling out its practitioners as “activists” or even “traitors”. These patterns have an impact both on the production of content, through direct pressure or self-censorship, and on the reception of content by the public.

The most glaring example of recent political influence in the report is the recent government’s obvious interference at the public broadcaster HRT. Despite whatever technical justifications can be put forward, the firing of HRT’s director general, the reassignment of nearly 70 staff members and paradigmatic shifts in programming content and tone – in the span of just a few months – add up to an attempt by the HDZ-Most coalition to assert control over HRT for its own means. This is all the more troubling in the run-up to Croatia’s September 2016 parliamentary elections, during which HRT must strive to produce balanced coverage.

Croatian Electronic Media Council (EMC) and its president, Mirjana Rakić were also mentioned in the report, after the EMC temporarily banned a broadcaster for violating hate speech rules.

The EMC issued the ban after the broadcaster, Z1, aired a programme in which the programme host signed off by warning viewers – especially “mothers with children” – to steer clear of a Serb Orthodox church in central Zagreb that the host said was run by “Četnik vicars”.

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