European Federation of Journalists

Croatia: over 905 pending lawsuits against journalists and media outlets

There are currently 905 lawsuits filed against journalists and media outlets in Croatia, with plaintiffs claiming almost HRK 68 million, according to the results of an annual survey conducted by the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) earlier this year and published on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (May 3rd).

Out of the 23 surveyed media outlets, 18 have a pending lawsuit for publishing “violation of honour and reputation”. Most lawsuits are filed against Hanza media (Jutarnji list, Slobodna Dalmacija and Sportske novosti), with as many as 502, weighing an average of HRK 100,000. Styria (Večernji list and 24 sata) followed with 170 lawsuits including an average amount per claim of about HRK 156,000.

The CJA itself has three active lawsuits. Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) has filed a criminal proceeding against CJA’s President Hrvoje Zovko and claim HRK 250,000 of damages as well as HRK 200,000 against CJA; and within the same lawsuit, a claim for  damages of HRK 50,000 against Sanja Mikleušević Pavić, president of CJA’s branch at HRT. “It is a unique case of lawsuits by the management of the public media service against its own employees, as well as the professional journalists’ association,” underlines CJA.

Out of the total number of 905 lawsuits, 859 refer to civil lawsuits over violation of honour and reputation led against the publishers, their editors and journalists for published texts and articles, while the other 46 are currently active criminal lawsuits. Plaintiffs are politicians, businessmen, public figures, local government units, companies, associations, chambers and even judges themselves.

In total, lawsuits amount to at least HRK 67.8 million. The required amounts of initial lawsuits in civil proceedings are often much higher than the final ones. Večernji list, for example, has 93 active litigation cases, in which the average claim amounts to HRK 155,719. In 2019, they had a total of 28 verdicts, with an average amount of HRK 21,919.

“The 905 lawsuits filed against journalists and media outlets, although it is a slightly lower number than last year, show that the persecution of the media and journalists in Croatia is still ongoing. We want to clearly warn the domestic and international public that lawsuits are the most common means of intimidating journalists and the media to give up serious investigative stories,” said Hrvoje Zovko, president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, commenting on this year’s CJA poll.

EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez added: “This survey shows again that SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are used on a large scale within the European Union. We know that these practices have a chilling effect on journalists who are intimidated and discouraged. The European Commission needs to urgently address the problem by amending existing regulations and proposing a directive which would set procedural safeguards against SLAPPs.”