Dear respected Croatian representatives in the EU Parliament,
Although all of you have been elected as candidates of different political parties and you have various points of view, I am certain that your commitment to compliance of human rights and Constitution of the Republic of Croatia is genuine as well as respect for basic guidelines of EU policy regarding freedom of expression and importance of media independency for development of democratic society. Unfortunately, in our country both freedom of expression and independency of media are endangered and the situation threatens to become worse as we have already seen in some EU countries.
Therefore I am writing to you as the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, an organization established at 1910 by important group of Croatian writers and intellectuals, among them Antun Gustav Matoš and Marija Jurić Zagorka, first female journalist, and that has nearly 2500 members – professional journalists.
Every administration has in 25 years of Croatian independency tried to use media and journalists for its political goals though through different methods. None has ever, last one, led by SDP (social democrats), included, adopted serious media policy nor has it established legal postulates for either efficiency of independent public media service and equal market competition with private media or strict implementation of existing regulations. In the long term independency of media and integrity of journalists are threatened by that situation as well as the public right to get accurate, comprehensive and substantial information from all sectors important for making quality decisions and electing persons who will rule the country in their name.
Although Croatia has become full member of EU and has completed all obligation even in the media sector the situation here is getting worse due to Homeland Coalition led by HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union). Unfortunately EU bodies have handed over all care about independency of media and freedom of expression to national governments that makes it possible to violate basic principles of EU.
In April last year Tomislav Karamarko, leader of the strongest oppositional party at the time, in his interview given to Globus weekly has announced revisionist policy when his party comes to power and said the citizens will be allowed to say/think what they want in their own homes, but not in public. And that journalists will have to support that kind of administration behavior.
The Croatian Journalists’ Association has notified frequently about that kind of messages and about the fact that they are not admissible in democratic societies, especially sent by leader of powerful party. Mr. Karamarko has never withdrawn his statement nor has he apologized to Croatian citizens. On the contrary, after Homeland Coalition, led by his party HDZ, won recent parliamentary elections and got majority in the Parliament thanks to Most party, that made possible for them to establish new government, those indications about canceling freedom of expression and actions directed to “discipline” some displeasing journalists and media started.
Zlatko Hasanbegović, Ph. D.; historian by education, was established at the position of the Minister of Culture and he plainly showed his point of view – he does not recognize anti-fascism as one of basic elements of the Croatian Constitution. And media are under jurisdiction of his Ministry! After just some days he stated that media complicate his job. After that he tried to disqualify politically discussion at Croatian Radio 3rd Program, part of public media service, and adjourned Ministry Committee for non-profit media six days after his inauguration at the position.
He did it in spite of regulation, without any announcement or analyses of Committee’s work stating, falsely, that need for that Committee to work ceased to exist. The Committee’s mandate was supposed to expire in October this year and during that period its members were under obligation to follow media projects they gave financial means to. The very same Minister declared that the Ministry of Culture in future would not finance non-profit media, as they had been supported anyway with minimum money and he announced “his” media policy (nobody knows anything about it).
In the negotiation process about mutual filling the post of administration Most presented its media program to HDZ and that program was identical to CJA’s and NGOs’ programs. HDZ accepted that idea at the time. But after just some weeks of filling that post in administration all statements and decision in that field were completely opposite to accepted principles of freedom of expression and media independency.
That attitude of the Minister of Culture is followed by attacks in haranguing manner of some Parliament members from Homeland Coalition who publicly state that media are an barrier to democracy. Even Mr. Karamarko himself, and now he has become First vice-President of the Parliament, blames media that publish facts about inadmissible attitude of the Minister of Culture and accuses CJA leaders for ‘insinuations’ because they insisted on his apology when he attacked media and democracy and wanted the Minister to be dismissed.
Even more, neither new First vice-Prime Minister nor Minister of Culture had any problem with the fact that protest against legally founded decision to penalize TV that broadcasted hate speech in its program was led by ‘journalist’ who spoke in that manner and another one known for his public attachment for NDH (pro-fascist state during 2nd World War).
Even more, the vice-President of the Parliament (member of the Homeland Coalition) participated that protest; neither he does not have any problem with that behavior.
No person mentioned above see any problem even in the fact that thousands of Homeland War veterans have been manipulated to protest against journalists and media not liked by administration. Although CJA and its leaders have been threatened and offended for months because of their firm convictions about professional and ethical principles without being servants to any administration or party, we will not give up.
Dear respected Croatian members of EU Parliament, we expect you to read this letter carefully and to act upon your conscience.
We will send the letter to the International Federation of Journalists (CJA is its affiliate member) as well as to European Federation of Journalists.Its 330.000 journalists are regularly informed about the situation in Croatian journalism and media. They support us publicly. This letter will be sent to other international journalists organizations, human right organizations and other EU Parliament members who support independent media and freedom of speech.
Zagreb, February 10, 2016. Saša Leković, CJA president