In January 2018 an international delegation of press freedom organisation representatives visited Zagreb for the second time in two years to observe the state of media freedom in Croatia. Now, the report is out, and these are the recommendations.
After a joint mission of media freedom organisations in June 2016 produced particularly bad results, a new delegation, consisting of representatives of the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (represented by Marijana Camovic, member of the EFJ Steering Committee) and Reporters without Borders (RSF), did find a more positive situation at the beginning of 2018.
First of all, Croatia has a new government since the last delegation visit, and the new conservative–liberal (HDZ–HNS) coalition at least has media freedom as a matter of utmost importance for a Member State of the European Union on its agenda. Political figures are taking a clear stand against endangering journalists’ lives. In 2017, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the Parliament Media Committee condemned attacks and threats against journalists. Since 2017, if journalists are attacked or threatened, police is reacting faster than before. Altogether, there are less physical attacks on journalists, however, attacks and threats, especially online threats, are still a big problem. As is the destructive influence of hate speech on society, which has actually increased since 2016.
That said, compared to last year, Croatia climbed five places in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, from 74 to 69. The delegation praises all improvements but also states that Croatia still has a long way to go.
These are the recommendations:
- authorities must conduct comprehensive investigations into all unsolved cases of physical attacks on journalists that happened in the past
- politicians, journalists and public figures must refrain from participating in, supporting or being perceived as supporters of smear campaigns or hateful rhetoric against journalists and the media. Politicians must condemn such campaigns and rhetoric when they occur
- political parties of all stripes must refrain from interfering with the editorial policy of the public broadcaster HRT
- both, management and employees at HRT should establish a more interactive way of communications
- lawmakers must include HRT’s own journalists in debates on a new HRT law and must increase the role of those journalists, civil society and consumers in the selection of HRT’s management.
- the matter of hate speech and fake news must be taken more seriously, more comprehensive and more pro-active. The initiative of a regulation – although announced, should not wait for an EU regulation. The regulation cannot be a threat against press freedom and freedom of speech
- the Croatian Parliament must fully repeal Article 148 of the Criminal Code on ‘shaming’, and should also repeal Arts. 147, 149, 349 and 356.
- the government must reform the legislation governing HRT so as to guarantee the station’s independence. Notably, this process should include changing the method of appointing the HRT director general and other HRT governing structures in line with European standards on public broadcasting.
- legal provisions providing for transparency of media ownership must be updated to ensure a sufficient framework for monitoring and compliance
- HRT management and journalists should act in the long-term best interest of the broadcaster and show solidarity in rejecting interference by political parties of all stripes
- HRT should consider the creation of an internal council to serve as a watchdog over HRT’s independence. Journalist organisations (associations and unions) should refrain from political activism and should uphold standards of professionalism and collegiality in their public activities
- the Electronic Media Council should be more active in cases where electronic media are not respecting professional standards, especially in cases of use of hate language in local media (local TV channels)
- the preparation of a media strategy for Croatia with active work and feedbacks from all media players
Credit photo: Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia