Attacks on the Press 2002: Croatia

The gradual stabilization of the western Balkans, combined with closer bilateral ties to neighboring Yugoslavia, encouraged some increased diversity in Croatia’s media during 2002. On January 7, for example, national Croatian Radio Television (HRT) broadcast a Serbian Orthodox Christmas service for the first time since the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. In May, after an 11-year hiatus, Croatia’s main newspaper distribution company, Tisak, began selling Serbian dailies and weeklies from Yugoslavia at newsstands again.

And although Croatia has been invited to join the European Union in 2004, powerful far-right opposition, bitter rivalries in the ruling reformist coalition, and a judiciary in need of reform continue to frustrate the country’s lively and influential press. The government’s tense relations with The Hague-based U.N. International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia dominated the news in 2002. Fresh war crimes indictments of senior military officials stoked nationalist passions and further strained the fragile government.

Throughout 2002, HRT and its two branches–Croatian Television (HTV) and Croatian Radio–continued their lumbering transition from state to public control. HRT faced strong criticism for mismanagement and politicized decision-making. In February, the Croatian Journalists’ Association and independent journalists criticized HTV editor-in-chief Jasna Ulaga-Valic for canceling an edition of the current-affairs talk show “Latinica” that dealt with the highly sensitive issue of fascist ideology in contemporary Croatian politics. And in April, the Croatian Helsinki Committee, a Zagreb-based human rights organization, criticized HTV for failing to broadcast a ceremony at the country’s World War II-era concentration camp, Jasenovac, after having recently provided live coverage of a ceremony honoring World War II-era fascist collaborators. Slavko Goldstein, a prominent historian and member of HRT’s oversight board, resigned in May to protest the unbalanced coverage.

In June, Forum 21, an independent association of broadcast journalists, protested that HTV was appointing editors in violation of its own nomination procedures and called for the selection process to be reviewed. Then, in late November, 10 senior
HTV editors resigned, complaining of chaos within the station and leading the Croatian Journalists’ Association to call for Ulaga-Valic’s resignation. In early December, HRT oversight board member Jaksa Kusan quit, frustrated with the board’s inability to encourage reforms at the broadcaster.

Croatia’s judiciary continued to hand down punitive verdicts in libel cases. In March, the Zagreb District Court upheld two such rulings by the Zagreb Municipal Court fining the independent Split-based weekly Feral Tribune a total of 200,000 kunas (US$ 25,000) in lawsuits dating back to the mid-1990s.

January 30

Srecko Jurdana, Nacional
Denis Latin, “Latinica”

Latin, editor and host of the weekly current affairs program “Latinica” on Croatian Television (HTV), was threatened with administrative charges and criminal slander charges after an edition of the program discussed corruption and inefficiency in the country’s judicial system, according to local press reports. Jurdana, a columnist for the Zagreb-based weekly Nacional and a guest on the program, was also threatened with slander charges. During the program, Latin had asked whether state prosecutor Radovan Ortinski should resign, resulting in a strong backlash from government officials.

On January 30, HTV acting director Marija Nemcic filed administrative charges against Latin for allegedly violating the station’s ethical code. The same day, another state prosecutor, Krunoslav Canjuga, said he was considering filing slander charges against Latin and several guests on the program, including Jurdana, lawyers Anto Nobilo and Cedo Prodanovic, and Judge Vladimir Gredelj.

On February 20, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the state prosecutor would not press charges against Latin and his guests. On February 28, the Commission for Ethics of the Croatian Radio Television rejected Nemcic’s complaint.

May 31

Sandra Krizanec, Croatian Radio and Television

Krizanec, a reporter at the Osijek Studio of Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), was threatened over the telephone by Parliament member Branimir Glavas, according to the local press. Krizanec had prepared a brief report for HRT’s noon news show about financial irregularities committed during the privatization of state-owned companies in the 1990s. A county prosecutor interviewed for the story implied that Glavas, who was involved in the privatization of the Osijek daily Glas Slavonije, had been involved in corruption. Several hours later, Glavas called the journalist and physically threatened her for reporting the story.

September 6

Osjecki dom

Approximately 100 members of the Croatian War Veteran’s Association (HVIDR) surrounded the printing house of the weekly newspaper Osjecki dom for several days and prevented its new edition from being distributed, according to local press reports.

Members of the far-right HVIDR were angry that the newspaper was going to publish a list of the country’s 3,300 disabled war veterans, along with information about their disabilities. Disabled veterans receive generous benefits from the state, but government corruption dating from the 1990s has allowed political loyalists of the former ruling nationalist HDZ party who were not injured to receive the benefits as well. Osjecki dom editor-in-chief Dario Topic explained that, “We wanted the public to discuss the issue … and gain insight into how budget funds are spent.”

Osjecki dom management claimed that police knew about HVIDR’s plans to block the newspaper’s distribution but did not prevent the action.