US Ambassador: Reporters Shouldn't Be Prevented from Telling Truth

By 7 March 2019

ZAGREB, March 7, 2019 - US Ambassador to Croatia W. Robert Kohorst said on Thursday that reporters should not be prevented from telling the truth but that they do have to be responsible for what they say.

Asked to comment on a reporters' protest against censorship held in Zagreb last Saturday, Kohorst said that the United States believed that there was nothing more important than freedom of the press.

"The United States is very much in favour of freedom of speech and hopefully journalists have the freedom to write articles that are both truth and informative," Kohorst said at a regional conference on the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Programme.

The ambassador said that he did not know much about the specific details of the protest but that he believed that there was good freedom of the press in Croatia. "I think that lawsuits that are not appropriate should not be done and we should not try and keep journalists from telling the truth but they do need to be responsible for what they say and hopefully there can be a balance between freedom of expression and telling the truth," said Kohorst.

Commenting on the case of reporter Đurđica Klancir, who was carded by police at workplace on Tuesday in relation to a private lawsuit against her, Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said on Thursday that if police conduct in the case should prove to be problematic, it was up to those in charge to deal with the problem and he announced possible changes to rules of police conduct or the police law if they proved not to be sufficiently clear.

"If the police officers acted lawfully, if their conduct was in line with professional rules, and if despite that there is a problem, it's up to those in charge of the police system to deal with it. If the problem concerns insufficiently clear rules that were defined by the minister of the interior in 2010, then we can deal with it promptly by adopting certain changes, and I will sign them," Božinović told Hina in Brussels where he was attending a meeting of the EU ministers of the interior.

He said that upon his return to Zagreb he would convene a meeting of the Police Directorate to discuss in detail existing rules and see what can or should be amended so that citizens as well as police officers do not find themselves in situations such as the one in question due to possibly unclear regulations. "If that requires changes to certain laws, we are authorised to launch a legislative procedure," said the minister.

Klancir, a reporter who works for the web portal Net.hr, was carded by two police officers at workplace on Tuesday and the police officers told her that they were doing so at the request of an attorney who was filing a private lawsuit against her on behalf of Sisak-Moslavina County Prefect Ivo Žinić, who was suing her for slander.

The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) has condemned the case as an act of political and police pressure" against the journalist and the Union of Police Officers has called on Božinović to replace national police director Nikola Milina over the case in which, it said, police were used for political purposes.

"This is not the first case where rules are interpreted differently. On the other hand, as minister I have to do my best for citizens not to feel intimidated or under pressure in cases of standard police conduct, as was this case," said Božinović.

He said that the Police Directorate, in charge of police conduct, had established that police officers in the specific case had acted in line with the law. "But, if certain conduct, regardless of its lawfulness, can cause disputes of such proportions, we have to ask ourselves... what we can do to avoid them in the future," said the minister.

"It is important that there is no hidden agenda, that police did not act on an order that would be outside the usual, legal procedure. The information I have received from the Police Directorate suggests exactly that... but I repeat, it is also our job to make laws and rules better, in the interest of all, and we will do it."

More on media freedom in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.