Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Opposition: It's Not Good That PM Plenković is Trying to Intimidate Media

ZAGREB, 2 June, 2021 - Recent frequent attacks on media, reporters and political analysts by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković were met on Wednesday with condemnation by opposition MPs, who called on him to accept criticism and on media not to allow to be intimidated.

Social Democrat Arsen Bauk said the prime minister had opted for the "attack is the best form of defence" approach.

"Some defeats at local elections are painful for the HDZ, notably the prime minister, because he chose or imposed some of the candidates. It is not good for the prime minister, who has both objective and real power, to try to square accounts with or intimidate reporters, media and their editors and owners. I hope you will not let yourself be intimidated by him," Bauk told reporters in the parliament.

Judging by their response, I can see that they are not intimidated, he said, adding that he was fascinated by Plenković's claim that rival broadcasters had colluded to devalue the HDZ's candidate for Zagreb mayor.

Stephen Bartulica of the Homeland Movement said that media were possibly responsible for the latest developments because they had been very mild towards Plenković from the start.

"I definitely support media freedoms and it is not unusual that media in Croatia and the rest of the world are leaning to the left, but I think that what is more important here are the so-called independent analysts who often have material interests and certain relations with political camps and NGOs and who act in public as if they were unbiased," said Bartulica.

The sole MP of the Reformists party, Natalija Martinčević, who chairs the parliamentary Media Committee, said that the prime minister was very nervous, which she considers inappropriate.

"Communication with the media must be civilised. We are all expected to behave that way and so is the prime minister. There is no justification for his behaviour," she said.

Most MP Marija Selak Raspudić said that media had been the PM's fetish for a long time.

"Let me remind you of his high school graduation thesis 'Means of Mass Communication' in which, apart from extensively quoting (Yugoslav Communist politician Edvard) Kardelj and Marx, he also says that the Party is the one to control all information in society. He then advocates some democratic trends and says that media should be democratised, but it seems that as an experienced politician he has accepted the principle that the Party should control all information and is surprised when he does not manage to do it," said Selak Raspudić.

HSLS MP Dario Hrebak said that every politician had their own style of communication, noting that the prime minister was evidently irritated by something.

"I, too, am sometimes unhappy with the media but everyone has the right to say what they think, I would not be a liberal if I thought differently," he said, adding that he believed the prime minister would mend his relationship with the media and some reporters.

aFor more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) Joins in Condemning PM Plenković's Statements

ZAGREB, 1 June, 2021 - The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has joined the Croatian Journalists Association (HND) and the Croatian Journalists Union (SNH) in condemning Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's verbal attacks on media and reporters after the local runoff election on 30 May.

The HND said on its website that EFJ Secretary-General Ricardo Gutiérrez described as "totally unacceptable that journalists are being attacked by both the Prime Minister and, just recently, the President of Croatia."

"Blaming journalists in this way is an attempt to undermine their credibility in order to limit their role as a counterweight. To insult or threaten journalists is to insult and threaten citizens, and to undermine the right of citizens to access free, independent information," the HND quoted Gutiérrez as saying.

The EFJ said on its website that shortly after the second round of local elections in Croatia, Plenković once again attacked the media, accusing them of "being paid to vilify a political camp" and accusing Dražen Lalić, an analyst and professor at the Zagreb Faculty of Political Science, of being paid by broadcasters to smear HDZ candidates, targeting also HND president Hrvoje Zovko, who strongly condemned his attack on the media.

The EFJ carried a statement issued on Monday by the HND and SNH in which the two organisations deplored "the open threats PM Plenkovic has made against all our colleagues and media which do not follow his and the HDZ's ideology.

"To name all those who critically speak about candidates ahead of elections and to mark as targets 'those who calumniate people for money' is not the kind of discourse that should be used by politicians, let alone prime ministers of civilised and democratic EU countries," the two organisations said in the statement carried by the EFJ.

The EFJ also quoted the HND and SNH as saying that such attacks only show Plenković and his HDZ party's ambition "to completely control the public sphere and determine the limits of media freedoms in Croatia".

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

PM Andrej Plenković: Media Are Not Sacrosanct

ZAGREB, 1 June, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told reporters on Monday evening that earlier in the day, when he was commenting on the elections, he was telling the truth and that amounted to no attack on the media because the media, he said, were not sacrosanct that couldn't be talked about.

"I was just telling the truth," Plenković said when asked by reporters whether he had gone too far  when commenting on the elections and criticisng several commercial broadcasters.

All those I talked about, including your broadcaster (RTL), used the wrong name of HDZ's candidate for Zagreb mayor in their shows, he said, adding that it had happened several times, even on another TV station and in some print media.

He said "these weren't slips of the tongue" and added that these things had clearly happened "on purpose". "This isn't criticism, I was telling the truth, it isn't an attack on the media. The media aren't sacrosanct so that we cannot talk about it," Plenković said.

Commenting on the statement that the Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) called on him not do it and that it was not his first time, Plenković said that that was "a rude and inappropriate statement by the HND president, who is much more slower and evasive when it comes to criticising (President Zoran) Milanović".

Milanović, he stressed, calls out on the media in a much harsher way. He calls the HRT Yutel, HRT reporters mercenaries of a political party, he calls daily newspapers usurers, he calls on your leadership to remove commentator (Žarko) Puhovski and after that I no longer see him in your (RTL) programme, Plenković said.

He said that HND president Hrvoje Zovko was "much more considerate" when it came to reacting to Milanović. Here he dares to talk about me as Lukashenko, Plenković noted, adding that this was going beyond all bounds, which could be classified as being biased.

It is one thing when those running in the election face off in a political match, and another when someone who presents himself as an independent analyst to the viewers, and they don't know whether you are paying him for it, describes a candidate before the elections in the worst possible way, Plenković said, referring to Dražen Lalić's comments for the RTL.

He recalled that it was not unusual for the media in the world to follow one political option.

There are no newspapers in the world for which one doesn't know whether they're left-wing or conservative, he said.

We cannot, he said, live in the belief that everyone is neutral, impartial, objective and in reality they support some option. "One shouldn't be ashamed of that, but it must be clearly stated," Plenković added.

There are double standards

Plenković also thinks that the media had been generating aggression toward the HDZ and the two key candidates in two big cities.

He said that the public had to realise there were double standards.

Asked to comment on Ivica Puljak's victory in Split, he countered with a question -- how can he have an anti-Semite for deputy mayor.

"The man practically wrote a justification for the Holocaust, and if you don't realise that, then you have a dangerous problem," Plenković said, adding that if it was happening elsewhere, "all associations would attack Puljak".

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Reporters without Borders (RSF): Press Freedom Deteriorates in World While Croatia Sees Progress

ZAGREB, 20 April, 2021 - The Reporters without Borders (RSF) association has reported that the pandemic has led to a dramatic deterioration of media freedom worldwide, while its latest index shows that the situation has improved in Croatia.

Croatia ranks 56th out of 180 countries on the organisation’s annual Press Freedom Index, moving up three notches after ranking 59th in the previous report.

The organisation's latest report, released on Tuesday, reads that "Croatian journalists who investigate corruption, organised crime or war crimes are often subjected to harassment campaigns."

"Defamation is criminalised and insulting 'the Republic, its emblem, its national hymn or flag' is punishable by up to three years in prison. Worse still, 'humiliating' media content has been criminalised since 2013. Nonetheless, several courts ruled in favour of journalists during defamation trials in 2020. The government has not stopped meddling in the public TV broadcaster HRT, while HRT’s management continues to sue employees who have complained about this problem, and has gone so far as to bring a complaint against the Association of Croatian Journalists."

COVID-19 pandemic deepens financial crisis in media

"Meanwhile physical attacks, along with threats and cyber-violence, continue to be a major problem for journalists without any reaction from the authorities. The Covid-19 pandemic deepened the financial crisis in the media, leading many outlets to cut pay and stop using freelancers. The journalists’ union asked the government to intervene to help freelancers and some economic measures were taken in the summer of 2020 but not all media benefitted," reads the report's section about Croatia.

Deterioration worldwide 

The organisation warns that media freedoms have deteriorated considerably in Asia, in the Middle East and Europe, as shown by its index.

The index is based on a survey of Reporters Without Borders’ regional correspondents and takes into account issues such as the level of attacks on journalists, media independence, and transparency of government institutions.

The pandemic led to an increase in repression worldwide, according to RSF, which noted that media workers had been arrested for covering the outbreak in countries including China, Venezuela, Serbia and Kosovo.

Top 10 best countries for press freedom are as follows: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Jamaica, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland.

On the other hand, the top worst countries are Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, China, Djibouti, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, Laos and Cuba.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Amnesty International: Croatia Violent Towards Migrants, But Improves in Fighting Gender-Based Violence

ZAGREB, 7 April , 2021 - Amnesty International says in its report on human rights in 2020 that Croatia continued to be violent towards illegal migrants and that access to abortion was constrained, while commending improvements regarding gender-based violence and a ruling allowing same-sex couples to foster children.

"Aid organizations documented over 15,000 cases of pushbacks and collective expulsions, frequently accompanied by violence and abuse," AI says, singling out the case of 15 migrants allegedly beaten by police while being tied to a tree.

The Croatian Interior Ministry regularly denies allegations of migrant abuse.

Gender-based violence

"In January, legal amendments harmonizing the definition of rape in criminal legislation with international standards and increasing penalties for crimes of gender-based violence entered into force," AI says, adding that "the number of reported rape cases more than doubled" as the changes "significantly expanded the scope of the offence. Proceedings continued to be lengthy, lasting between three and five years."

"Due to the reclassification of domestic violence offences, the number of criminal prosecutions for such offences rose sharply. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, domestic violence continued to be treated as a minor offence attracting minor penalties. Police and courts remained reluctant to enforce protective measures," AI says.

Sexual and reproductive rights

"Women continued to face significant barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information," AI says.

"The widespread refusal of individual doctors and some clinics to perform abortions on grounds of conscience, as well as prohibitively high costs of services and poor regional coverage of authorized providers, presented an insurmountable obstacle to women of lower social economic status."

A new law on abortion was not adopted, AI says, although the "deadline to replace an outdated law set by the 2017 Constitutional Court ruling expired in February 2019."

Roma discrimination

"Roma continued to face discrimination in all walks of life, including education, health, housing and employment," AI says, adding that due to lack of electricity and the internet, "many Roma children were unable to access any remote learning during school closures, thereby further deepening educational gaps between Roma and non-Roma pupils."

Freedom of expression

"Journalists investigating corruption and organized crime continued to face threats and intimidation," AI says, adding that according to the Croatian Journalists’ Association, over 900 lawsuits were filed against journalists in 2020 for “violation of honour and reputation”.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

European Commission VP Šuica Excoriates Journalist After Call-in Criticism of Her Wealth

April 29, 2020 — European Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica was in the kitchen on Saturday when she heard her name on local a television call-in show. The caller echoed long-standing questions about her wealth. Šuica then picked up the phone and called the program herself. Not to lambaste the accusations so much as berate the journalist hosting the program.

“It's really amazing how people are dealing misinformation, and you haven't reprimanded it!” she chastised the host, Pasko Tomaš.

“My wish would be to prevent any Croat, male, female, or citizen of this country from speaking in this way,” Šuica continued. “I’m the godmother of your Dubrovnik television! And I'm really happy that I was at the time. But I'm really sorry that you're letting citizens dump mud, garbage, mud on my name!” She also suggested Tomaš allowed such criticism to increase viewership.

Šuica is the European Commission’s Vice President overseeing Democracy and Demography.

The bizarre spectacle unfolded on “Glas Naroda”, or “The Voice of the People”, a Dubrovnik-based call-in show common for local television stations across Croatia. The shows ostensibly serve as an open forum yet often devolve into an hours-long political demolition derby. Ordinary citizens phone in and deliver soliloquies chastising local politicians, lobbing conspiracy theories, or just lament the state of the nation in a one-way conversation.

Šuica found herself in the crosshairs of such a tirade this weekend.

“We have individuals, these politicians, they stay for four to eight years in power,” the angry caller said. “They rob everyone wherever they can and in eight years they have to 10-15 million [kunas],” the caller said, while Tomaš sat with a furrowed brow and diligently scribbled notes. 

“Here, for example, Šuica. She was said to be worth seven million euros. Imagine that!” 

Tomaš continued to listen, diligently scribbling notes, peering at his laptop or back at the camera. 

The caller was referencing questions about how Šuica’s wealth — namely, how the former mayor and school teacher accrued assets worth about €5 million. The European VP owns multiple houses, two apartments, a cottage in Bosnia, as well as a yacht and three cars. The figure was first reported by

Šuica attributed the wealth to her husband’s earnings as a boat captain and inheritance. Yet she refused to release documents that could back up her claims, even after local reports refuted them.

She survived a European Commission vote in October, by the scantest of margins after a three-hour-long hearing.

The European Commission through a spokesman said its Vice President respected the freedoms of press and speech.

“Vice President Šuica reiterates her unwavering support for media independence, freedom of expression and information,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer wrote in a statement for Večernji List. “She also wants to point out that this TV station in Dubrovnik was opened during her mayoral term. So she obviously supports their work.”

Hosts for call-in shows mostly act as conversational traffic cops, stopping rants that run long or intervening if a caller breaks rules regarding good taste. Sometimes, they’ll ask a question to keep the monologue going. 

Tomaš let the caller run through a three-minute screed that decried the state of the nation from several angles before finally reaching Šuica.

“She has a yacht worth 500,000 euros,” he said. “She would need HRK 250,000 a month just to maintain the yacht, to pay for anchoring. Where did her money come from? She can say this, that, but it's all the same in our country.”

Here, about four minutes in, Tomaš gently cut the call short.

Šuica was among the next on the line.

“I’m surprised you didn't react,” she told Tomaš. “I know that you are an excellent journalist, that your show is watched. I heard it from the kitchen!”

The Croatian Journalism Society recently warned reporters in the country are targets of attacks and threats despite climbing in the press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders.

“Reporters investigating corruption, dealing with organized crime and war crimes, are often exposed to harassment, pressure, and attacks,” the society’s president Hrvoje Zovko said in a statement. “What we especially consider important to mention is that in Croatia, an atmosphere has been created in which journalists are blamed for everything.”

Tomaš offered the European VP a chance to respond to the accusations. Šuica laughed.

“In this country there are institutions, and they’re the ones who know,” she said. “It's very interesting that you even bother with this at all.”

She turned down two more chances to refute the accusations before dangling Tomaš the chance at an interview.

Tomaš saved his thoughts for the end.

“Tonight, unrelated to all the participants in this show, I will never, or ever, allow, as long as I am in the business, that anyone, and most of all politicians, influence my work or teach me this business,” he said. “This is [The Voice of the People], and I'm Pasko Tomaš and I'm responsible for what I do.”

Monday, 16 September 2019

Gordan Duhaček, Journalist from Website Arrested, an independent Croatian news site, reports on September 16, 2019 that one of their journalists, Gordan Duhaček, was arrested this morning.

As he was returning from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia yesterday, he was told that the police were looking for him. He went straight to the police station in Heinzelova street as he returned to Zagreb, to see what that was about and discuss arrangements with them, as he was supposed to leave Zagreb today for a business trip. However, the police officers waited for him at the airport this morning, and have arrested him.

Supposedly, he was arrested because of the two tweets he published on his own personal Twitter profile. One of them is from the summer of 2018 (!), and the other one was written just a couple of weeks ago.

The first tweet in question, given above, discusses how cops treat people while being arrested (sic!), and that you should obey anything the police tell you without any questions, as they're the highest law there is, and it was completed with the phrase ACAB. ACAB is a well known anti-police slogan.

The other questionable tweet is, in fact, a series of tweets in which Duhaček satirically rewrites a famous patriotic song Vila Velebita, to bring attention to the problem of waste-waters being released into nature without any management.

A day after that tweet has been published, Duhaček wrote about how someone has reported him to the police over that joke, and how ridiculous it is on what the police resources are being wasted.

To follow the latest on this story, here is the original on Index.


EDIT: At 5:47 pm reports that Duhaček is currently at the Misdemeanor Court in Novi Zagreb.

You can find the original lyrics of the Vila Velebita song on the Wikipedia page; here is the English translation for those of you wondering what it's all about:



EDIT: At around 7 pm, reported that Duhaček has been released from custody, having being fined 200 Deutsche Mark for his tweet mentioning ACAB. He said that the verdict on Vila Velebita will be issued in three days. And, yes, some fines in Croatia are still in Deutsche Mark, although they have been replaced in Germany and the rest of the world, except Croatian laws, back in 2002.