Civil society boycotts public broadcaster after 1,000+ lawsuits

Peaceful Assembly

On 2nd March 2019, protesters gathered in Zagreb to defend media freedoms. The protesters rallied against numerous lawsuits, political pressures, threats, and advertisers’ demands on media publications. According to the Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) over 1,000 Croatian journalists and media outlets are currently facing court proceedings. The majority of these involve journalists and media outlets being sued for defamation. As such, the protesters mobilised to highlight the routine misuse of legislation to persecute journalists. During the protests, participants held banners saying: 

“You’ve taken the media, but we’re not giving up journalism!”

Of the 1,000+ cases against journalists and media outlets at least thirty were filed by the state broadcaster Croatian Radio-Television (HRT). Consequently, numerous CSOs and journalists have called for a boycott of HRT until the lawsuits are dropped. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, concerns have been raised over whether the public broadcaster has been subject to political pressure recently. In fact, in September 2018, HRT sacked Hrvoje Zovko, the president of Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND), who was a journalist and editor at the public broadcaster, citing a “series of insults, misconduct, extremely inappropriate and unprofessional statements”. It is alleged that Zovko was dismissed after he drew attention to the state of media freedom in Croatia and reportedly highlighted instances of censorship at HRT.  

In an unrelated incident, thousands of people rallied in Croatia demanding government action against domestic violence. The protests took place on 16th March 2019 after a man threw his four small children from a balcony on the island of Pag. Two of the four children sustained serious injuries in the six-metre fall. The event sent shockwaves through the Balkan nation, inspiring a #spasime (save me) movement on social media, gathering more than 45,000 members on Facebook. The protesters gathered Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik, carried banners reading "Zero Tolerance" or "No to violence." There was no evidence of violence during these assemblies. 

Expression

On 19th February 2019, thirty Croatian NGOs announced a boycott the public broadcaster HRT for two weeks in protest against the thirty lawsuits filed against journalists. In this unprecedented boycott, CSOs did not give any statements to HRT and refused to participate in HRT shows. Despite growing momentum against the volume of lawsuits against them, political pressures, threats and advertisers’ demands, Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic stated that he does not see a problem with media freedom in Croatia. 

On 6th March 2018, another incident took place further highlighting the extent of political pressure faced by media outlets. Đurđica Klancir, a Net.hr journalist, was a target of unprecedented political pressure when the police officers came to her editorial room to establish her identity necessary for the procedure of a private lawsuit filed against her by Sisak-Moslavina County Prefect Ivo Žinić, who is privately suing her. The journalist, Klancir was previously noted for her work publishing articles about nepotism and clientelism in Croatia. HND condemned in the strongest terms "the political and police pressure" on Klancir, saying that this is an unprecedented case in which a powerful politician, Žinić used local police as a weapon to intimidate critical journalists. Despite the pleas from civil society, Croatia's Ministry of the Interior claimed that the police conduct was in accordance with the law.