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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Croatia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Croatia, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c564fe28.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

This was an unstable year for press freedom in Croatia. The passage of two amendments to the Croatian Criminal Code unleashed a string of libel cases against independent journalists. The amendments greatly facilitated the process by which journalists could be charged with libel against five top government officials.

In June, in the first trial under this law, two journalists from the satirical weekly Feral Tribune were charged with libeling President Franjo Tudjman. CPJ selected the case as emblematic of the use of seditious libel, or anti-government "insult" charges, against journalists in Croatia as well as throughout the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe, and prepared a legal brief condemning the statute and the indictment CPJ board member James C. Goodale presented the brief to the court trying the case. Goodale noted that the use of such seditious libel laws was "fundamentally antithetical to the values of a democratic society." The September acquittal of the two journalists, an editor and a reporter, was hailed as a victory for domestic journalists' groups as well as for CPJ and other international press freedom advocates. By year's end, the state had appealed the acquittal, and at least two other cases under the new amendments were pending.

CPJ Chair Kati Marton met with several independent journalists and with President Tudjman during a six-day fact-finding mission to the Balkans in April. During Marton's meeting with Tudjman, he insisted that no government leader would tolerate the satirical criticism he faces from the Croatian press, but Marton told him that democratic leaders would permit it. Tudjman, a former Communist general who himself was once imprisoned for his writings, repeated his comments in public and followed them up with a rash of incidents of harassment of print and broadcast media.

Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Party refused to renew the license of Radio 101, an independent radio station that once aired Tudjman's dissident views about Communist authorities. When the government gave the popular Radio 101's frequency to another station, at least 6,000 people gathered in Zagreb's center to show their contempt for the decision. Taxi drivers circled the station's offices, honking their horns in support of Radio 101. Authorities softened their stance, and by year's end they were re-evaluating the status of Radio 101 and its frequency.

Although Tudjman actively sought Croatia's entry into the Council of Europe, the council delayed admitting the country, largely because of the government crackdown on the media, begun in March. But the Council reconsidered Croatia's status after the Croatian parliament passed a more liberal media law on Oct. 2, and Croatia was admitted to the Council on Nov. 6.

While the new media law sets more lenient guidelines for journalists, its wording is ambiguous. For example, the law absolves publishers of liability for information causing "offense," but only if the material is considered to be reported in good faith and in the public interest. Furthermore, the new law authorizes the government to force newspapers to run corrections and clarifications.

Throughout the year, Croatia's ruling party continued to use arcane and often spurious legal maneuvers, such as tax inspection and restriction of broadcast licenses, to silence critical, independent voices in the media. The main national newspapers and Croatian radio and television remained under the control of the ruling party.

April 25
Panorama, CENSORED

The Croatian government closed down the offices of the independent newspaper Panorama for allegedly violating property and environmental laws. The newspaper's deputy editor, Andrej Rora, stated that the government's move was in response to Panorama's critical coverage of President Franjo Tudjman. CPJ wrote to President Tudjman and urged him to reopen the offices of Panorama and ensure that it be permitted to resume publishing. On May 10, authorities permitted Panorama to reopen.

May 3
Viktor Ivancic, Feral Tribune, LEGAL ACTION
Marinko Culic, Feral Tribune, LEGAL ACTION

Ivancic, editor in chief of the independent weekly newspaper Feral Tribune, was taken to a police station in Split and informed that a criminal case had been opened against him and Culic, a Feral Tribune reporter. They were charged with slandering President Franjo Tudjman in the April 29 issue of the paper. The charges were in connection with an article titled "Bones in the Mixer," and a photomontage, labeled "Jasenovac: The Biggest Croatian Underground City." The article criticized the president's proposal to rebury the remains of World War II Fascists alongside their victims. This case was the first to be brought under legislation passed on March 29 that effectively criminalizes any critical reporting or satirical commentary on five top officials. The legislation allows for punishment of up to three years in prison for those convicted. In a letter to President Tudjman, CPJ urged that the charges against Ivancic and Culic be dismissed. On June 14, the criminal trial of the Feral Tribune journalists was unexpectedly adjourned on its opening day - apparently in response to the international outcry over President Tudjman's efforts to muzzle Croatia's independent media. The judge scheduled the trial to resume on Sept. 25, in order, he said, to call new witnesses. CPJ board member James C. Goodale, who traveled to Zagreb to show support for the journalists, presented the judge with a legal brief prepared at the request of defense counsel. The CPJ brief condemned the prosecution as an example of seditious libel, a legal concept that runs counter to the standards for press freedom in democratic societies. The judge explained that he could not enter the brief into the record because the Croatian legal system had no procedures for filing such documents. But he did agree to meet with Goodale at a future date to hear CPJ's concerns. After the hearing, Goodale and other representatives from press freedom groups and local NGOs held a public meeting and press conference where they denounced the statutes used to prosecute the journalists, citing international practice regarding criminal libel. On Sept. 25, the criminal trial resumed for the Feral Tribune journalists. On Sept. 26, the judge acquitted both Ivancic and Culic of all charges. In a press release following the verdict, CPJ hailed the decision as a victory for press freedom in Croatia, but called again for the elimination of the legislation that was used against Ivancic and Culic and is now being used against other journalists.

May 23
Feral Tribune, LEGAL ACTION

Nevenka Kosutic, the daughter of Croatia's President Franjo Tudjman, filed a civil libel suit against Feral Tribune, demanding 3.5 million kuna (US$635, 000) in damages. Kosutic claims that Feral Tribune, a satirical and investigative weekly, slandered her by publishing allegations that she set up a prosperous business using her government connections. According to the state news agency HINA, Kosutic's lawyer, Zeljko Olujic, has asked the court to order the provisional withdrawal of the money from Feral Tribune's bank account pending a verdict. CPJ, which had sent a May 7 letter to Tudjman concerning a criminal libel suit brought against two Feral Tribune journalists, sent another letter to the president, urging him to repeal revisions to the Penal Code on criminal slander and to cease all legal harassment of the Tribune and other independent media.

May 30
Globus, THREATENED

In an ongoing government campaign of harassment and intimidation against the independent press, the ruling Democratic Party of Croatia (HDZ) announced its intention to sue the weekly independent newspaper Globus. The HDZ leaders cited a May 21 article, written by the paper's editor in chief, Davor Butkovic, which contends that the ruling party has drafted a list of opposition politicians whom they plan to publicize as public enemies. The HDZ leaders denounced the article, saying it contained "speculation and lies." CPJ urged President Franjo Tudjman to ensure that the HDZ does not file charges against Globus. On June 3, the Council of Europe announced five conditions that Croatia had to meet for admission to the council, one of which was that the Croatian government drop all its pending cases against the independent news media.

July 2
"Slikom na Sliku" CENSORED

The editor of the television news program "Slikom na Sliku" (Frame by Frame) told CPJ that he had been informed by officials at the government television channel HTV, Croatia's only nationwide channel, that HTV would no longer air the popular program. No explanation was given for the program's cancellation. CPJ wrote to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, urging him to allow "Slikom na Sliku" to continue broadcasting. The show, which began running in January 1992 and aired five times a week, was a 45-minute program containing interviews with prominent newsmakers and broadcasts from abroad. It was the only television news program in Croatia to cover the June trial of Feral Tribune journalists Viktor Ivancic and Marinko Culic, who were charged with slandering President Franjo Tudjman. In April, CPJ's chair, Kati Marton, appeared on the program to discuss press freedom issues in Croatia.

July 15
Radio 101, LEGAL ACTION

The Croatian Telecommunications Council for the second time denied Radio 101, a local station in the Zagreb area, a permanent license to use the FM frequency it has been broadcasting on since 1983. Radio 101's first application, submitted in January, had been rejected by the Council because of missing documentation. Although the station was able to provide the missing information in the second application, the Council refused to grant the license anyway. Meanwhile, the popular, award-winning Radio 101 has paid fees amounting to more than DM50, 000 (US$32, 000) for three temporary licenses, the last of which expired on Nov. 15. Editors there believe the Council's reluctance was politically motivated because Radio 101's news is often critical of the government and most of the nine members on the Council are also members of the ruling Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ). On Nov. 20, the Council voted to give the frequency, 94.3 FM, to Radio Globus, a station that had been vying for the frequency but until that time had existed only on paper. Zagreb's citizens responded with mass demonstrations, and Radio Globus declined the frequency in support of Radio 101. CPJ and other international groups, the U.S. State Department, and even members of the HDZ also denounced the Council's move, and on Nov. 21 the Council revoked its judgment and decided to conduct another round of bidding for the frequency. Radio 101 was able to continue broadcasting. On Jan. 24, 1997, the Croatian Telecommunications Council voted 6-2 in favor of granting Radio 101 its permanent license to broadcast on its current frequency, 94.3 FM. The Council stipulated, however, that the station would have to submit additional paperwork by Oct. 31; then the station would be able to sign a formal contract with the telecommunications ministry.

September 3
Veljko Vicevic, Novi List, LEGAL ACTION
Tihana Tomicic, Novi List, LEGAL ACTION

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the ruling party of Croatia, brought libel charges against Vicevic, editor in chief of the independent daily Novi List, and Tomicic, a columnist for the newspaper. The charges stemmed from a recent column by Tomicic in which she compared the political climate in Croatia before its first regional elections, held in 1990, to the situation in Germany just before Adolf Hitler became chancellor. The charges were filed under Article 71 of the Croatian Criminal Code, which forbids the publication or broadcasting of information deemed to be false and considered injurious to the "honor and reputation" of public officials. The law mandates up to three years in prison for offenders. CPJ wrote to President Franjo Tudjman on Sept. 4 to express concern over the charges against the Novi List journalists and others accused of similar offenses.

September 3
Ivo Pukanic, Nacional, LEGAL ACTION
Srecko Jurdana, Nacional, LEGAL ACTION

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the ruling party of Croatia, brought libel charges against Pukanic, editor in chief of the weekly independent newspaper Nacional, and Jurdana, a columnist for the paper. The charges were filed under Article 71 of the Croatian Criminal Code, which forbids the publication or broadcasting of information deemed to be false and considered injurious to the "honor and reputation" of public officials. The law mandates up to three years in prison for offenders. In filing the charges, the HDZ did not cite any specific articles published by Nacional, but it did single out Jurdana, who is known for frequently writing columns critical of HDZ leaders. CPJ wrote a letter to President Franjo Tudjman on Sept. 10 to express concern about the charges.

November 18
Nacional, CENSORED

When the leading independent weekly Nacional attempted to issue an early edition with coverage of President Franjo Tudjman's visit to the United States for medical treatment, editor in chief Ivo Pukanic was told the newspaper's printer, which is state-run, had run out of paper and could not complete the job. Pukanic learned, however, that there was an ample paper supply at the printing house. A senior official in the Croatian government called Pukanic and told him that Nacional had to wait one day before publishing the edition, saying that the paper should not publish news about the president's health just as he was returning to Croatia from a Washington, D.C., hospital. Nacional published the edition the following day.

November 29
Vesna Jankovic, Arkzin, HARASSED

Croatian police questioned Jankovic, the editor of the independent biweekly Arkzin, about a Sept. 13 article about the assets of President Franjo Tudjman's family. Jankovic was pressured into signing a statement saying that she was responsible for the article, but no formal charges have been filed against Arkzin. The public prosecutor launched the investigation under Articles 71 and 72 of the Croatian Penal Code, the same legislation that was used against Feral Tribune journalists Marinko Culic and Viktor Ivancic.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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