Sunday, 19 December 2021

Survey Shows Politicians, Advertisers Pressure Journalists

ZAGREB, 19 Dec, 2021 - Companies' representatives, advertisers, politicians and government members are the untouchables in the media, according to a survey which journalist and editor Đurđica Klancir did for the GONG civil society organisation.

Although those in power often claim there is no censorship in Croatia's media sphere, more than two in three journalists answered in the affirmative when asked if they were exposed to pressure due to their stories in the past two years, GONG says on its website.

Also, two in three respondents said they witnessed pressure on their newsrooms by power-wielders, media owners, and their own outlet's marketing departments.

Thirty experienced journalists and editors from the public broadcaster, the most influential private TV stations, print media and web portals were contacted at the start of the survey and 23 responded, says GONG executive director Oriana Ivković Novokmet.

Almost half the respondents said that in the last two years they were banned from tackling certain subjects, most often due to advertisers but also during the 2020 parliamentary election campaign. Besides big advertisers, the untouchables included members of the ruling party, ministers, the prime minister, as well as opposition politicians.

Stories are most often stopped due to advertisers, but only a few respondents said attempts were made to influence their work while preparing and researching a story. Such suggestions came most often from their editors or their outlet's owners. According to one respondent, politicians and PR agents also suggested the direction a story should take.

With increasing frequency, journalists are asked to write articles commissioned by editors based on theses given in advance, often incorrect ones, one journalist said. "We are also asked to write PR and native articles, both economic and political ones, often covertly. Refusal to write an article in the way requested can mean, and often means, termination, and it almost certainly means degradation."

The findings of this pilot survey show that there is censorship in Croatia's media sphere and that newsroom censorship mechanisms are increasingly present, GONG says, adding that it's necessary to continue to look into this matter as well as persist in eliminating all forms of censorship and pressure on journalists and the media.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2021

People Trust Facebook More than Institutions, Media and Science

ZAGREB, 13 Dec 2021 - Fake news is an increasing problem and challenge for society and democracy and people are more likely to believe information read on Facebook than those in positions of authority such as institutions, science, and the media, a zoom conference organized by the Gong NGO heard on Monday.

Techniques used to disseminate misinformation are being advanced by the day and that is why it is necessary to improve the quality of the media, media literacy and to build democratic political culture founded on well-argumented criticism. However, it is also essential to regulate digital platforms and responsible authorities, heard the conference on the dissemination of fake news during the COVID-19 pandemic".

Trust in social media is growing, trust in health staff declining

Croatian citizens don't trust the government, nor judiciary, nor media and avoid listening to the news. More and more trust is placed in social media, while healthcare staff is less and less trusted, said Professor Marijana Grbeša-Zenzerović of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb.

As much as half of the Croatian population believes that the virus emerged in a government laboratory whereas in Denmark only 6% believe in that. Grbeša-Zenzerović also underscored that citizens trust EU institutions more than national ones.

6 in 10 Croats say they come across misinformation at least once a week

Milica Vučković, a lecturer from the faculty, said that 62% of Croatian citizens assess that they come across misinformation at least once a week. They often mention the "effect of a third person," people are aware of misinformation and consider that they will not be duped by fake news or manipulative claims.

We are seeing more sophisticated models of disseminating misinformation which is more difficult to reveal. The fact that some people think they are immune to fake news is a big problem, she said.

"Science doesn't always have all the answers, which is then exploited by those who share misinformation and conspiracy theories. In addition to compromised media space and poor communication by politicians, it is a fact that it isn't easy to communicate about science in a comprehensible way," warned Vučković.

The postulates of news reporting envisage that media outlets ought to report in a well-balanced, unbiased, and fair manner and that all sides should be presented. This is why media outlets often give the same space to the arguments for COVID vaccination and to those against vaccination, despite the fact that there is a consensus in the scientific community that inoculation helps in the fight against disease, said Mato Brautović from the University of Dubrovnik. 

"The more citizens are exposed to traditional media reporting in line with that postulate, the more they will trust it. A balanced report does not necessarily mean 50:50, or those arguments of 'anti-vaxxers' and 'vaxers' should be presented in the same amount," he said. 

Speaking about why people trust fake news, Professor Andrea Vranić from the Zagreb Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb said that people had a limited capacity to process the information they receive.

"Based on one article, we will generalize and create an attitude while emotions will motivate us to act, as long as it primarily has to do with fear for oneself and one's loved ones," she said.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 24 September 2021

Vanja Juric Says Court Ban Issued to Portal Needs Thorough Investigation

September the 24th, 2021 - Croatian lawyer Vanja Juric has stated that a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the court ban issued to a media portal prohibiting them from publishing texts on an institution and its director needs to take place. You can read more about the details here.

As Index writes, Vanja Juric, who is currently representing the H-Alter portal (which is the target of the court ban) and is otherwise an expert in media law, commented on the case during Novi Dan (New Day), which kicked up a lot of fuss and saw numerous reactions from the public, the profession and politicians.

On Tuesday, the Municipal Civil Court in Zagreb imposed a temporary measure banning the publication of articles about the director of the Polyclinic for the Protection of Children and Youth on the H-Alter portal. The lawyer representing the portal in this case, Vanja Juric, revealed what their next steps are.

"The appeal procedure is the only possible procedure, and we have a deadline of 8 days. They're convinced that they did everything right as journalists and will do everything to protect journalists' freedoms," she said, adding: "H-Alter is not allowed to publish articles about the Polyclinic or Dr. Buljan Flander, but a journalist working for any other media can continue to report on the subject."

The court did not seek a statement from the publisher

Vanja Juric pointed out that the judge did not ask the publisher or the journalist to comment:

"Neither the publisher nor the journalist were asked for their comments. The explanation states that this wasn't done because it wasn't necessary for the decision to be made. The judge is not obliged to do that, but I think that in such sensitive matters the judge had to assess that it is possible in this procedure, and the portal should be given an opportunity to comment, and then it needs to be seen whether this should be treated as something to be reported.''

When asked if Dr. Gordana Buljan Flander had other methods if she thought that the journalist was belittling or telling lies about her, Juric said:

"This was a bad assessment, a misuse of the institute of an interim measure. According to Croatian media law, there are a number of ways to react in these cases. To my knowledge, the Polyclinic and Buljan Flander responded with requests to correct the information that was published. This was wrong in a number of ways, but the focus should be on what the court does, which is not there to look after the rights of the Polyclinic, but also the rights of all of us. The key is to focus on how such a court decision could have been made at all.''

Vanja Juric believes that this decision cannot survive and that the County Court will need to overturn the decision.

"That said, if it does remain like this, it opens the door to the most serious violations of media freedoms. It isn't that someone is seeking the removal of a certain text, but that the court is prohibiting any reporting on the professional work of an institution in the future at all, regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of a positive or negative context. That is why this is very dangerous,'' she added.

Shocking testimonies...

The story of the work of the Polyclinic came into the public spotlight mainly after Severina's confession, although about 40 women were included in this series of stories and texts.

"Before all this, I followed the story and when Severina came out with her testimony, I was deeply upset by it. I think it's commendable that she, as a public figure who has influence, decided to go public with such a personal topic and encourage public debate on topics that are important. When mothers face someone more powerful than themselves during divorce proceedings. Any person who uses their influence in public to draw attention to things like this should be encouraged to do so,'' Vanja Juric noted.

The interim measure must be justified within a period of 30 days, and it can only be through a lawsuit, we cannot yet know what exactly it will be, she added.

Juric made sure to emphasis the fact that she truly doesn't recall any such examples before: "This has set a precedent. There have been attempts at interim measures to request the removal of one or more articles, or to prohibit the publication of a particular story, but a ban on future reporting, something like this has never happened in Croatia, and as far as I know - in the world.''

The lawyer says the story should be investigated to the very end and then we can really reveal how well-founded these damning allegations are:

"The only thing that makes sense now are to check it all. The accusations made by these women, and all the texts are based on serious testimonies, there can be no justification for the authorities not to do anything. The only logical thing is to check everything, everything needs to be clarified to the end. Legal stories such as this can take years. I hope common sense will prevail, that the Polyclinic will see the error of its ways and that it will withdraw the request for an interim measure. I expect if it remains in force and if a court case is initiated, then we'll be talking about a period of three to five years,'' concluded Vanja Juric.

For more, follow our lifestyle section.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

SLAPP Lawsuits Croatia: Lawyer Vanja Juric on Attempts to Stifle Journalists

April 11, 2021 - In the Open Editorial, public figures write freely and openly about developments in their field of expertise. A look at SLAPP lawsuits Croatia.

In March, lawyer Vanja Jurić was appointed to the Expert Group of the European Commission for the so-called SLAPP lawsuits, as previously reported on TCN. These are "strategic" lawsuits that are unfounded or exaggerated and are aimed at intimidating and silencing those who ask questions of public interest - journalists, activists, and associations. This is a real threat to freedom of expression and democracy, says Vanja Jurić, who writes in the Open Editorial about lawsuits filed by powerful officials, politicians, and businessmen against journalists who problematize their public activities.

A few years ago, the Croatian Journalist’s Association began to publish annual data on the number of proceedings against journalists, editors, and media publishers in Croatia. For the public, that number, which is around a thousand active proceedings, was probably shocking. However, Croatia has long been, at the European level, one of the countries where the media are exposed to the largest number of lawsuits. These are different types of proceedings, but most often lawsuits for damages, in which the media or journalists are asked to pay monetary compensation, due to the so-called mental pain. A significant number of these proceedings are initiated by politicians, officials, judges, powerful businessmen, and corporations because of texts written by journalists in which they problematize their public activities.

Current and former ministers sue the media for reporting discrepancies in their assets, officials file lawsuits over articles about their previous criminal convictions, large corporations seek damages to publish their e-mail correspondence with state leaders, judges sue for problematizing court decisions that have been enacted, and the public service for reporting on the program and spending taxpayer’s money.


Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation

More specifically, former Minister Tolusic filed a dozen lawsuits against various media outlets for reporting on his property cards, and Mijo Crnoja for reporting on land and soft loans granted to him ten years ago, although he has not built a house there to date. The Croatian National Tourist Board sued journalist Paul Bradbury and demanded HRK 50,000.00 for criticizing the promotional campaign they conducted, and Croatian Radio and Television initiated between twenty and thirty proceedings against its colleagues - media and journalists, for critical reporting on the situation on the public service. Likewise, a judge who released five suspects for serious crimes to defend himself from several media outlets is demanding amounts in excess of one million kuna, because they criticized such a decision, although his decision was later changed by a higher instance. This is only a small part of such examples.

What all these journalistic articles have in common is that they were justified, factually substantiated, verified, and about issues of significant public interest. All these procedures, if we adhere to the rights and case law, should be completed in favor of the media, and some of them already are.

Objects that have such characteristics are connected by a relatively new abbreviation SLAPP, which means the so-called Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation; and for which the European Commission, less than a month ago, appointed a special expert group, recognizing that this is a type of procedure that is characteristic of the entire EU and has consequences which are contrary to the fundamental values ​​of the European Union.

These are, therefore, lawsuits that are mainly directed against journalists, media, activists and their organizations, who, through their public actions, rightly and justifiably speak out on issues of public interest. It can be about uncovering various social or political affairs, criticizing the government, politicians, officials, or corporations; whose actions, for whatever reason, are important for society. Therefore, it is not just about the media, although they are most often from the other side of SLAPP. There are also a number of examples in Croatia in which the victims of such actions are NGOs, activists, and whistleblowers.

Financial exhaustion

Unlike other types of court proceedings, the primary goal of the so-called SLAPP lawsuits are not the protection of a right or interest of plaintiffs (and obtaining a court judgment by which these rights are exercised), but the prevailing belief is that their purpose is fulfilled by filing lawsuits, setting high lawsuits and conducting lengthy and often expensive court proceedings. One of the main characteristics of such lawsuits is that they are, in essence, unfounded; when it is clear from the beginning that there is no valid (factual and legal) basis and that the final success of the plaintiff in the proceedings is not likely. In these proceedings, which require the payment of damages of tens of thousands of kunas, almost completely regardless of their outcomes - longevity and financial exhaustion - attempts are made to put pressure on people or organizations that speak out about a social problem and thus, legally, punish and intimidate.

Given that the "larger" media are constantly exposed to court proceedings, in which the cumulative amounts claimed in lawsuits reach several million kunas, it is clear that this is serious pressure on them. The problem is even more obvious when individuals, such as journalists, activists, or non-profit media, are exposed to such lawsuits, and by initiating and conducting such proceedings, their existence is literally called into question.

Threat to freedom of expression

Through the work of domestic and international organizations dealing with the protection of freedom of expression and media freedom, this type of lawsuit - which in fact has always existed - has finally been named and recognized at the European Union level as a threat to freedom of expression. That is why an expert group of professionals from all over the EU has been appointed to advise the European Commission in the process of creating a system of protection against such lawsuits (both in terms of legislation and general policies) and the introduction of "safeguards" that will prevent or at least limit such lawsuits.

If we look only at Croatia, today or in the last thirty years, it should be completely clear that almost nothing that is really important (about politics, crime, social problems, and difficult affairs) we would not know without the media. We would know almost nothing about the assets of dismissed ministers, serious allegations of corruption and organized crime, health system problems in the fight against the coronavirus, or the shortcomings of the social welfare system.

Guard dogs

The point is that the role of the media, as well as the role of activists and organizations involved in detecting various social anomalies and informing the public about these problems, is completely irreplaceable in any democratic society. Without them, democracy, which implies public control over all political and social processes, simply does not exist. Without the so-called public watchdogs, which are the most common (or most visible) media, we would not know what is happening in society, and especially in politics. In Croatia, this example is so obvious, but only looking at the scandals that the media have discovered or helped to reveal and publish, in the last few years.

That is why, for any democratic society, it is necessary to protect freedom of expression and media freedom, as much as and for as long as it is necessary. It is about rights and freedoms that are, without any exaggeration, a precondition of any democracy. Likewise, protecting them not only means providing a “defense” in court proceedings, but also creating a social environment in which every journalist, media, and activist can work freely and independently. SLAPP lawsuits and the self-censorship they can cause are a symbol of the opposite of these values.

To read the original Croatian version of this article on RTL, click here.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

78% of Electronic Media Outlets in Croatia Adversely Affected by Pandemic

ZAGREB, 28 March 2021 - The Electronic Media Agency (AEM) has published the results of research indicating that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on 78% of electronic media's overall business outlets in Croatia.

When asked how the pandemic affected their overall business in 2020, 27% of electronic media outlets said it had a very negative effect, and 51% reported a mostly negative effect. Nearly 19% said that the pandemic had neither a positive nor a negative effect.

On the other hand, nearly 3% of electronic media outlets reported a generally positive effect on their overall business, but no one said that the pandemic had a very positive effect.

Pandemic had the worst impact on television and radio

The pandemic had the worst overall impact on television and radio broadcasters -- over 90% said that the pandemic had a negative or very negative effect on their business.

The research has also shown that 70% of media outlets were affected by the pandemic primarily financially, as a result of which they generated less revenue in 2020 compared to 2019. A fifth had the same level of revenue, while 10% saw an increase in revenue.

According to the respondents, the pandemic did not negatively impact the quality of media content.

Slightly more than 45% of respondents said that the pandemic had neither a positive nor a negative effect on the quality of media content, and 37% said that the pandemic had a generally negative effect.

Again, television broadcasters were the ones that reported a generally negative effect on their content in the highest percentage, of almost 55%.

The research has also shown that the government measures to help the enterprise sector in the pandemic, which also covered electronic media outlets, were used by just over 35% of the respondents. Of those that did, 90% said they used the HRK 4,000 wage subsidy measure.

More than half of media outlets satisfied with institutions' coverage of pandemic

Over half of the respondents (52%) said they were generally satisfied or very satisfied with the way institutions informed the media of the pandemic.

The research was carried out in the last week of January, and all radio and television broadcasters and providers of electronic publications and other media services were invited to participate.

Those are non-profit producers of radio or audiovisual programs, media services providers via cable, satellite, and/or the internet, and on-demand media service providers. The AEM had 607 of them in its records on the day the research began, and 235 service providers participated in the survey.

To read more news from Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Most Croatian Media Without Fake News on Pandemic

ZAGREB, October 11, 2020 - Electronic Media Agency president Josip Popovac says the majority of Croatian media have been covering the coronavirus pandemic excellently, without a proliferation of fake news.

"I thank the media for their professionalism, the feeling for the community and the way in which they became involved in the fight against the pandemic," he has said recently.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis in mid-March, the Agency and the Electronic Media Council issued a warning to all electronic media in the country aimed at protecting the public interest, banning all audiovisual services which released or spread disinformation about public health.

Publishing or spreading disinformation causes concern, spreads fear and panic in the population and leads to even more difficult consequences than the ones we are faced with, they said.

The warning underlined that the Council, in line with its powers, would severely punish the releasing or spreading of disinformation.

In early April, following a query by Hina, the Electronic Media Agency reported on the first results of a stepped up oversight of electronic and other media which showed, despite fears by many media experts, that there had been no "infodemic" of fake news.


Popovac: The media have done a great job during the pandemic

By then, only 13 complaints about reporting on coronavirus had been received, including nine referring to disinformation and fake news.

Popovac says the complaints were not just about fake news but also about interpretations which were in line with freedom of speech and democratic standards. "We haven't had any attack, deliberate causing of panic and fake news, and we are very proud of that. The media have done a great job."

He says there have been incidents on social media, which is out of the Agency's control, but that the media have done and are doing their job professionally.

Popovac says not every piece of disinformation can be treated equally as it depends on who it harms and how much, adding that one needs to be very flexible, notably when there are no consequences, major societal divisions or harm to individuals or society. "I think minor disinformation is prevalent in Croatia, a consequence of speed and non-deliberate mistakes which can be corrected with a retraction." 

Popovac says it is difficult to legally punish fake news by a general regulation, adding that there exists legal protection from disinformation and that a decision on that is made by a court.

Experts warn that many things are vague regarding regulations and decisions which punish disinformation, notably in Croatia.


Levak: Legal and media regulations still inadequate

The European Union and some other countries have tried in recent years to create effective regulations to crack down on the production and spreading of fake news. However, legal and media regulations are still inadequate, says Tomislav Levak, a candidate for a doctorate in communicology at the Osijek Academy of Art and Culture.

He says these regulations lag behind the problem at least as much the spreading of true and verified information lags behind the much faster and more effective spreading of fake content.

The situation in Croatia is quite problematic as the Media Act and the Electronic Media Act barely address new media and communication platforms, Levak says, adding that their regulation should be the basis for attempting to solve this problem.

Croatia has not come even close to adequately regulating the prosecution of persons and institutions that release disinformation, he says, adding that the law on misdemeanors against the public order and peace that is in force was adopted in 1977 and last amended in 1994.


Current punishment for fake news is DEM 50-200 or 30 days' imprisonment

That law stipulates that anyone making up or spreading fake news which disturb the peace and tranquility of citizens will be fined the national currency equivalent of 50 to 200 German marks or placed in prison for up to 30 days, Levak says.

The situation, according to the government, should be improved by a bill on unacceptable behaviour on the Internet which should regulate and define accountability for content published online, Levak says. "Although its adoption was announced in September 2019, it hasn't been adopted nor is there, as far as I know, a draft."

Renowned attorney and media law expert Vesna Alaburic calls for caution in amending legislation which regulates freedom of expression only due to a rise in fake news.

She says the spreading of fake news in itself must not be subject to any restrictions in a democracy if it does not cause serious harm which would justify restricting freedom of expression and punishment.

The fact that spreading fake news which disturb the peace and tranquility of citizens is punishable as a misdemeanor in Croatia is enough, Alaburic adds.

For decades, penal codes included disturbing the public and spreading fake news as offences which were used for score-settling with political opponents or those criticising the authorities, she says, adding that those provisions were removed after strong criticism.

Alaburic says the current legislation is good in principle and she has reservations about the possibility of adopting a law on unacceptable behaviour on the Internet.


Alaburic: Only courts should rule on violations

She says she is not familiar with that initiative and that only courts should rule on violations. "Self-regulation can be used to establish certain rules of conduct but in that case it's important to ensure judicial oversight."

Popovac warns about problems if that law is adopted, notably the possible establishment of a kind of Internet police which would oversee "unacceptable behaviour."

He says it is necessary to be cautious in formulating provisions because freedom of speech, press, publishing and expression is the foundation of a democracy. Once something is banned, when censorship takes hold, there is no going back, he adds.

We should focus more on media literacy and educating new as well as older generations for "driving on the Internet," and we are doing that, he says, underlining the exceptional importance of journalists and professional media during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the fake news infodemic.

"The commitment of all media employees who constantly reported and are reporting is fantastic. They have always been on the scene, consciously risking infection. Together with the medical staff, whose contribution has been the largest, the contribution of journalists and other media employees was and remains crucial," says Popovac.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Hate Speech in Croatian Media Growing Stronger

ZAGREB, October 10, 2020 - A comprehensive survey of Croatian media, which in some aspects spans over a period of more than six years and covers more than 14 million published items, reveals the presence of hate speech in them that is growing on a daily basis.

Marko Poljak, Jelena Hadzic and Masa Martinic of Newton Technologies Adria, which specialises in technologies that identify hate speech in Croatian, Slovenian and Serbian, and Presscut, a media monitoring company, conducted this comprehensive analysis of the media content in terms of the presence of hate speech and the events that encouraged it, and they published it in the latest issue of the In Media Res magazine.

The survey focused on two types of content, the first being media items in the period from early 2013 to the end of April 2019. More than 14 million individual items were found, in print media, radio and television news programmes and on news portals, and they included 50,724 items containing hate speech.

The second type of content were comments on social networks. A total of 72,000 comments, posted in the period from early April to early July 2019, were analysed and among them were 1,012 comments with unacceptable speech, which accounts for 1.4% of the comments.


Facebook post of HDZ MP's son encouraged most hate comments

The most media items containing hate speech were published on web portals, 0.58%, and the least on radio, 0.04%, and their total number grew by the year. The number of items containing hate speech, registered in only four months of 2019, exceeded the total number of such items in 2013, the first year of the survey.

The largest increase as well as the largest number of hate comments was recorded in 2016, and the increase in the number of such comments on web portals exceeded 300%, shows the survey.

In a period of one year, starting on 1 May 2018, only one day, Christmas, was without hate speech. The average daily number of posts containing hate speech was 29.6, and the largest number, as many as 287 items with unacceptable content, was recorded on 9 January 2019.

Media posts containing hate speech are often connected with certain events. The authors of the survey note that most posts, as many as 523, were connected with an insulting message Ivan Djakic, the son of HDZ MP Josip Djakic, posted on his Facebook wall on the occasion of Serb Orthodox Christmas, January 9.

A week later, Vukovar mayor Ivan Penava's statement drew 235 posts containing hate speech and he was criticised for causing a "spiral of hate speech".

Penava said at the time that Vukovar is "the epicentre of a continued, creeping Great Serbian aggression" and showed at a news conference a video of a group of local Serb students sitting while the national anthem was played at a football match.


Facebook posts most numerous, YouTube posts account for largest share

The largest number of comments were collected on Facebook, 58,847, and 801 or 1.34% contained unacceptable language. YouTube comments accounted for the largest share of unacceptable comments in the total number of comments, of 3.33%.

Most unaccaptable comments were provoked by posts related to Serbs, 12,837. The least comments with unacceptable speech were prompted by posts that referred to Roma, 1,448.

The largest number of individual unacceptable comments referred to Bosnians, 175, and the largest share of negative comments in the total number of comments collected referred to Muslims and Jews, 2.25 and 2.22% respectively.

Negative comments about migrants accounted for the smallest share in the total number of comments, 0.54%, while the average share of negative comments for all groups was 1.41%.

The largest number of negative comments refer to ethnicity, 587, and religion, 337.

The question of why certain groups attract a smaller or bigger number of unacceptable comments was not the subject of this survey. The answer to that question requires a deeper analysis of the items published, the related events and context, and possibly persons who posted comments, the authors of the survey conclude.


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