The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) has reiterated its request for revoking the provision on punishable defamation from the Penal Code, and the latest call for rescinding the controversial provision came on Friday after a recent judgement by a municipal court in Zagreb that ordered the commercial RTL broadcaster to pay HRK 50,000 to Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic because it aired an interview with Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic which included disparaging remarks about Bandic.
HND chairman Zdenko Duka called the ruling “unprecedented” at a round table the association held in Zagreb on Friday on the topic “Court-led censorship of the media”. PM Milanovic’s disparaging statements are the reason why Bandic has also sued the national broadcaster HRT and the proceedings in that case are under way. Duka explained that it was not disputable that the premier should be held responsible for his statements, but that punishing the media broadcasting the PM’s interviews was controversial.
As for the latest defamation ruling in favour of Bandic pending appeal, lawyer Vesna Alaburic said at the round table that she was confident that a higher-instance court would quash the judgement. She found it unthinkable to expect reporters “to censor” statements by top state officials, primarily the president and the prime minister. Regardless of their contents, statements per se made by those officials are news and citizens have the right to know what they think, the lawyer said.
Alaburic said that in the last 25 years, no Croatian government had shown a wish to liberalise media legislation, however, the biggest headway was made during the term of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ) when it was impossible to find journalists guilty of defamation.