New wave of SLAPPs hits Croatian media and journalists
The Croatian journalists’ trade union and professional associations (TUCJ and CJA) announced last week that a new wave of vexatious lawsuits (SLAPP) is hitting Croatian media and journalists. The dozen of SLAPPs targets Telegram news portal, Virovitica.net, Index and journalist Dora Kršul. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates in Croatia in denouncing an attempt to intimidate and silence investigative journalism.
The lawsuits are initiated by former top politicians – former Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolušić and former Member of Parliament Branimir Glavaš – as well as University of Zagreb Rector Damir Boras.
Nine lawsuits filed by former Agriculture Minister Tolušić are to be added to another lawsuit against Telegram news portal. The disputed articles referred respectively to Tolušić’s winery as well as to the proceeding initiated against him for misreporting the size of his property.
Virovitica.net portal is facing two active lawsuits (5.280 euros) filed by Tolušić for reporting about the same concealed property. The editor-in-chief Goran Gazdek is also facing a lawsuit filed by Member of Parliament Romana Nikolić who demands almost 3.000 euros for a report about former conviction.
“They expect us to hire lawyers and defend ourselves in courtrooms so we may not have time for new stories,” Gazdek said.
“Branimir Glavaš also joined the lawsuits against Index, and Rector Boras sued journalist Dora Kršul for a story made according to all the rules of the journalistic profession“, said CJA President Hrvoje Zovko at a press conference on 28 October.
“They solve criticism of their work by filing lawsuits, as a form of intimidation of journalists and imposition of censorship,” Zovko added.
In May 2020, TUCJ and CJA counted over 905 pending lawsuits against 18 media outlets and journalists in Croatia with plaintiffs claiming almost HRK 68 million (9 million euros) in total.
The EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez said: “There is no doubt that SLAPPs are used in Croatia as a tool to intimidate and silence those who report in the public interest. We call on the European Commission to urgently address this EU-wide problem. Journalists and media outlets simply don’t have the resources to deal with these vexatious lawsuits.”
#SLAPP “A new wave of lawsuits is happening“ against journalists & media outlets in #Croatia, said @HNDhr @HZovko yersterday at a press conference. Nine of them are filed by former Minister Tolušić. The EU can no longer turn a blind eye! @dreynders @VeraJourova @MediaFreedomEU https://t.co/jySRkV850B
— EFJ (@EFJEUROPE) October 29, 2020
This statement is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism, which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project, co-funded by the European Commission, provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers.