Croatian Journalists, President, Slate Media Law as Blow to Free Speech

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Source/Author: Balkan Insight, Vuk Tesija

Croatian journalists’ union and country’s President condemn proposed law penalizing leaks from investigations as an attack on freedom of speech and the public interest.

The Croatian Journalists’ Association, HND, and the country’s President have condemned the government’s seeming determination to implement a new criminal offence, targeting the unauthorized disclosure of content related to investigative or evidentiary actions.

The HND said the initiative has hazardous implications and is an assault on the journalistic profession and the public interest. On Thursday, the government sent the new law to parliament.

“It is the biggest act of aggression against the journalistic profession and the public interest. This can be considered one of the biggest blows to the journalistic profession in the last 30 years,” HND president Hrvoje Zovko said on Friday.

“There is no justification for passing such a law, and HND cannot be ‘bought’ by the fact that the proposed law exempts those engaged in the journalistic profession from criminal prosecution,” said Zovko.

The legal proposal is an attack on freedom of speech and the freedom to transmit information and undermines democratic foundations because the public has the right to be informed about procedures conducted by state bodies, which this law will prevent them from doing, he added.

“They will exempt us [journalists] from criminal liability, but at the same time will sanction those who would provide information of public interest. This legal solution will contaminate the area around journalists and no one will dare to contact the media anymore,” Zovko said.

He also said the law was being persistently “pushed” by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who “in the manner of [Serbian President] Aleksandar Vucic, attacked N1 Television this week and showed what awaits us before the elections”.

Plenkovic said a few days ago that regional media house N1 television was only “semi-legal in Croatia”, after which he encountered criticism.

The HND said it will be “submitting a request to the Constitutional Court for an evaluation of the constitutionality and the possibility of organizing a new major journalistic protest”.

“The penalties for this criminal offence, which will now be included in parliamentary procedure, are up to three years in prison for revealing the content of evidentiary and investigative actions from the non-public phase of the procedure. Who will be sanctioned? Public officials, civil servants, defendants, defence attorneys, witnesses, experts and interpreters will be sanctioned. So, all the participants in criminal proceedings,” HND Secretary General Melisa Skender said.

“Journalists will be prevented from accessing data in real-time. I’m afraid that with the application of the new law, which is very rigorous, sources will be very careful about what they say to journalists,” concluded the HND Vice President, investigative journalist Drago Hedl.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, known for frequent conflicts with the PM, also denounced the new law on Friday.

“Plenkovic would like to arrest those who publish information from an investigation,” he said. “In order to dull the blade of journalists, he [Plenkovic] is threatening people from the system. Because he knows where it’s leaking from,” Milanovic asserted.

He assessed that journalists “will not be accused but will be harassed” through the new law and warned: “Whoever comes under the influence of that law, I will pardon him!”

Source: Balkan Insight