Croatia: The intolerable draft Media Law must be fought
On 5 July 2023, the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND) was informed by the Croatian Ministry of Culture and Media of a particularly repressive draft media law. The task group that had worked on the law did not adopt that document, and the HND officials consider it was almost passed “under the table”. The proposed draft law shows enormous dangers for journalism and freedom of expression.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemn the blatant attempt of the Croatian government to stifle the media and to push forward its narrative. We join the fight with our affiliate the HND and other unions and journalists to establish a right to media freedom in a country where already so little of it remains.
The working material aims to impose on the media unprecedented restrictions that in effect will entirely cut the right of journalists to express opinions diverging from the official narrative, thus putting democracy at extreme risk. In effect, the separation existing in most countries between editors, publishers and journalists would be restricted to an almost non-existing point, an attempt by public officials to capture the media in a similar way than in Orban’s Hungary and Duda’s Poland.
Amongst the propositions, we note several extremely worrisome points:
- A ban applied to journalists and media workers from criticising the work of courts and state attorneys’ offices, and publishers would have complete control over the publication in newspapers, able to reject articles without explanations.
- A restrictive provision forcing all state bodies, public institutions and agencies, and companies owned by the state or the majority owner to give at least 20 percent of their annual amount designated for promotion or advertising of their services or activities on advertising in daily and weekly general information print media
- An obligation for journalists to disclose their sources to their editor-in-chief when asked. This goes against the generally accepted principle of non-disclosure of sources and against the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This proposition is rendered even more dangerous because anyone finding its name in the media would have the right to sue for compensation for “non-property damage”, when claiming that the information was obtained “illegally”. Procedures in this instance would not be opened to the public.
- With regret, it is noted that the proposed model of establishing the Council for Media (the Council for Electronic Media would now be responsible for all media) suggests a selection process for council members that allows the ruling majority to have discretionary powers in proposing and confirming candidates in the Croatian Parliament. This jeopardises the independence of the media regulator, which, under such a selection model, remains a political body.
- The proposed composition of the Council of Media Experts appointed by the Council of Media is unacceptable . In this envisioned council with extensive powers, private profit entities will dominate, taking four out of five seats, while journalists and media experts will be completely marginalised.
Melisa Skender, General Secretary of the HND, also warns about the dangers of the Council of Media Experts. As the Council of Media Experts is expected to decide on the allocation of direct and indirect support to the media, such a council, populated by individuals chosen at the will of interested market actors, would be allocating public funds primarily to themselves, which is an unbelievable example of a conflict of interest.
“We note with regret that the model of the establishment of the Media Council in this proposal follows the model of the election of Council members according to which the ruling majority has the discretion powers to propose and confirm candidates in the Croatian Parliament, a further proof of the lack of independence of the Council,” says Maja Sever, President of the European Federation of Journalists.
Amongst the tasks the Council of Media Experts would have is the assessment of who is a journalists: the working version the law proposes the obligation to register journalists and photojournalists, according to the HND an attempts by the government to control workers who have the right to remain independent of political powers and their potential biases. That same Council would give the court opinions on whether damage to personality has been committed.
“The proponents’ intentions, the Ministry of Culture and Media, show a dangerous direction that will make it even more difficult for journalists to work freely in Croatia,” added Maja Sever. “It is obvious from the working materials that the goal of the proponent, who did not take into consideration the proposals of journalist associations, is to establish even more robust control over journalists and the media sector through a dubious model of media co-financing and control over journalist status. In this way, the government deepens the division between the media by honouring the elected ones while punishing the other, primarily independent media.”
On 19 July 2023 HND sent a letter to the Croatian Media Minister, Nina Obuljen Koržinek informing her of what it said was the “unacceptable nature of the draft bill”.