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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Croatia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Croatia, February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c565682.html [accessed 10 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.

As of December 31, 1998

The Croatian government stepped up its already vigorous use of criminal and civil libel suits to keep the independent press in check. By year's end, independent newspapers including Globus, Feral Tribune, Nacional, and Novi List were facing more than 600 civil law suits. Individual claims generally range from about 100,000 kuna (US$15,000) to 4.6 million kuna (US$750,000), which 23 government ministers are demanding of Globus for an article reporting allegations of official corruption. Another 300 or so criminal libel cases have been lodged against individual journalists. The majority of plaintiffs are government officials who claim to have suffered mental pain as a result of the articles in question.

Some good news can be derived from the fact that Feral Tribune journalists Viktor Ivancic and Marinko Culic were acquitted on December 21 of criminal libel charges in a long-standing criminal libel suit. Following an initial acquittal in September 1996, the state filed an appeal and new charges were brought against the two journalists in connection with the article "Jasenovac – The Largest Croatian Underground City." While this most recent acquittal could potentially serve as a precedent in future cases, it is unlikely to affect those in which newspapers have already been ordered by second instance courts to pay significant fines. This is the case with Nacional, which lost three cases this year for a total of 614,846 kuna (nearly US$100,000), and The Feral Tribune, which also lost three cases worth 160,000 kuna (US$27,000). Each of these verdicts has been appealed to the Supreme Court, although the newspapers could be forced to pay these fines until the decisions are overturned by a Supreme Court ruling.

The situation was only made worse by the frequent use of Article 25 of Croatia's Public Information Law, which stipulates that courts must hear these lawsuits within eight days of the initial filing. This leaves little time for the defendants to properly prepare a defense.

State-controlled distributors and printers exert financial pressure on the country's print media. Tisak, the country's largest distributor, allied with the ruling Democratic Party of Croatia (HDZ), controlled about 70 percent of all newspaper sales. They routinely withheld payments from independent newspapers and, to a lesser extent, state-owned newspapers. At one point toward the end of the year, the amount owed to Nacional exceeded 3 million kuna (approximately US$500,000). Other independent newspapers are equally dependent on Tisak for payments to employees and to printers, since the majority of their income comes from sales rather than advertising. On the other side of the squeeze is the largely state-owned printing house, Hrvatska Tiskara, which has threatened to stop printing independent newspapers if they fail to meet payments.

Amidst the legal and financial harassment, which showed no signs of abating during the year, independent journalists learned in November that the secret service had been keeping files on many of them. The security forces continued their more blatant forms of intimidation such as threats and physical attacks.

Croatia's privately owned electronic media struggle to compete with the state-controlled HTV Television and radio. HTV television, managed at nearly every level by HDZ operatives, remains the country's most influential station. But an association of prominent reporters from HTV known as Forum 21 has been vocal in calling for reforms within the television network, including greater editorial freedom and balance of political viewpoints.

Attacks on the Press in Croatia in 1998

DateJournalistIncident
11/27/98Ivo Pukanic, NacionalThreatened
11/27/98Georgitsa Klancir, GlobusThreatened
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