Journalists vilified and threatened during election in Croatia
Journalists in Croatia have recently been subject to verbal abuse from government officials. The heightened tension around elections on 11th September fuelled an environment in which threatening behaviour against journalists became more prevalent. On 9th September, journalist Tomislav Krasnić published an article questioning the election promises of a Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate. After Krasnić received abuse on Twitter from SDP candidate Damir Tomić, the incident was investigated by the Electoral Ethical Council who deemed the candidate's comments and online abuse to be in contravention of Electoral Ethical Code. The Croatian Journalists Association said the following:
Croatian Journalists' Association condemns the SDP candidate’s attack against journalist Krasnić and supports Ethical Council decision. The CJA calls once more every journalist to verify every statement made by politicians during elections and after and to report about every attack they experience while doing their jobs.
In a separate incident on 7th August, the Mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić accused an editor of lying and insulted her after a live interview for a pre-election. Bandić's behaviour symbolises the aggressive approach of officials towards journalists in the pre-election period. In another worrying example, a journalist with the national broadcaster received a death threat from an interviewee who was unsatisfied with the way he was portrayed in her reporting.
In a separate incident, a journalist working for government-owned media outlet Hina was fired after 26 years of service. She was fired after discovering and revealing cases of government censorship. Many fear that cases like this indicate that political manipulation of the media and regulatory bodies is on the rise in Croatia. On 21st September, the European Broadcasting Union expressed its concerns over threats to Croatia's public broadcaster HRT and specifically plans to reduce the television license fee part of the negotiations to form a new government.
Between mid-August and mid-October, Croatia witnessed public protests on a wide range of issues. Particularly prominent were demonstrations on abortion by groups focusing on women's rights and sexual and reproductive health rights. On 7th October, Catholic anti-abortion activists held demonstrations in front of hospitals as a part of their “40 Days of Life” campaign.
Representing another view on abortion, on 16th September the women's network of Croatia protested to show their opposition to the Catholic Church's sponsoring of a congress on forensic gynecology. Demonstrating the pan-European nature of the current debates around abortion, in early October Croatian female rights activists also gathered in solidarity with Polish women over a proposed ban on abortion in Poland. To show regional solidarity by feminist groups, activists took to the streets of Zagreb to highlight the growing influence of the Catholic church in formulating policy. While none of these protests were disrupted by security forces, on 5th October one protester harassed a local radio reporter by grabbing his microphone during an anti-abortion gathering.
Although journalists have been largely unimpeded in their coverage of recent protests, on 9th September a journalist with daily newspaper Novi was verbally abused during a pre-election rally held in Zagreb by the Croatian Democratic Union party. The journalist was abused after attendees wrongly accusing him of being a spy.
A variety of other protests have also taken place without incident in recent months:
- Teachers protested against staff recruitment based on political and family connections.
- Students of the Faculty of Philosophy held a meeting requesting the resignation of their acting Dean.
- Croatians protested against the government's decision to move ahead with plans on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada (CETA) without informing citizens.
- Doctors in Sisak County protested against a director’s refusal to comply with applicable rules of specialist training for doctors of medicine.
- Residents of Zagreb protested against a proposed winter terrace on the Flower Square.
- Football club supporters in Split protested against the non-implementation of the law on sports while a political party held a pre-election gathering at the same time.