SafeJournalists: Unacceptable Draft of New Media Law in Croatia

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    On July 5, the Ministry of Culture and Media in Croatia submitted to the representatives of the working group for the drafting of the new Act on Media a working version of that Act, which is worrisome and completely unacceptable for media community in Croatia. The adoption of such a law would set back media freedoms and the position of journalists and media workers in Croatia. 18 months ago, at the invitation of the Ministry, CJA submitted its amendments to the current Media Act. The Ministry has now offered a document that wasn’t previously discussed at the meeting of the working group, nor any consultations. On July 19, CJA sent its comments on the text.

    Key parts of the working document that concern CJA and the SafeJournalists network:

    • the tendency to legalize censorship through a provision that gives the publisher the right not to publish a journalistic contribution voluntarily and without any explanation
    • the journalist’s obligation to reveal his source of information to the editor
    • the proposed composition of the Council of Media Experts is unacceptable. In this imaginary Council with enormous powers (allocation of grants, public interest test…) private profit-making entities (the largest publishers of print and electronic media, private law and media faculties) will dominate, which will receive as many as four out of five seats, while journalists and media experts will be completely marginalized
    • register of journalists and photojournalists whose professional status is decided by the imaginary Council of Media Experts
    • the state’s attempt to get involved in media self-regulation through the imposition of the Council of Media Experts, which should adopt editorial statutes in the media where publishers fail to agree on the statute with journalists
    • avoiding defining and sanctioning hidden advertising
    • abandoning the encouragement of media pluralism and media diversity by abolishing the provision on state financing of the start-up of new small, local and community media
    • the unclear provision that “it is not allowed in the media to undermine the public’s trust in the role of the courts in a democratic society” is problematic and unclear.
    • there is not enough information about grants and the Fund for the Promotion of Media Pluralism and it isn’t clear what kind of criteria will be used for allocation of this public funds.
    • the introduction of additional state control over professional associations, which are required to submit a membership list and a work plan for the next two years.

    The president of CJA, Hrvoje Zovko, said that the proposal of the new media law was not previously agreed upon within the working group and that it is unacceptable for CJA, as it represents an unprecedented state interference in media freedom, a violation of the already fragile division between publishers, editors and journalists, an attempt to interfere in the self-regulation and free association of professional journalists and arbitrary granting of the right to professional engagement in journalism. “It is, in short, a direct coup against the positive rules that have defined journalism in democratic countries for more than a hundred years,” concludes Zovko.

    The Safe Journalists network, which represents more than 8,200 media professionals in the Western Balkans, is concerned that such a draft could come up for public consultation, and that some dangerous parts of that Act could be adopted. We call on the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia, as well as other relevant institutions in Croatia, not to release this document into public discussion, which is in direct contradiction to the standards for freedom of expression of the Council of Europe, which Croatia is a member. This Draft Law also undermines the EU values to which Croatia, as a member, should be dedicated. We invite the Ministry to once again consider the comments and remarks of CJA as well as other relevant actors and come out for public discussion with a document that is in line with the principles and standards of the organizations of which Croatia is a member.

    The SafeJournalists network will inform relevant national and international stakeholders about this case.

    Every attack on journalists is an attack on the public interest, democracy and the rights of all citizens.

    Pristina – Skopje – Sarajevo – Zagreb – Belgrade – Podgorica, 22.07.2023.

    Association of Journalists of Kosovo

    Association of Macedonian Journalists

    Association of BH journalists

    Croatian Journalists’ Association

    Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia

    Media Union of Montenegro