• Government makes progress on reforms, but press freedom lags.
• Ruling HDZ gains influence with some media outlets.
8: People indicted in a car bombing that killed two media executives.
Croatia’s efforts to join the European Union by 2011 did not yield major improvements in press freedom. While the EU said the government had made “substantial progress” on several issues—including the resolution of border disputes, the institution of refugee property rights, and improved cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia—some journalists feared the country was sliding back toward the lawless 1990s, when the ruling nationalist HDZ party suppressed independent news reporting. Police remained inconsistent in investigating attacks against journalists, several of whom faced threats after reporting on government corruption.
THE PRESS: 2009
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A major breakthrough in one case offered some hope. Authorities in Croatia and Serbia brought indictments against eight people in the brutal 2008 assassination of two media executives. Ivo Pukanic, owner and editorial director of the Zagreb-based political weekly Nacional, and Niko Franjic, the publication’s marketing director, were killed when a bomb exploded under Pukanic’s car outside the paper’s building. Acting in cooperation with Croatian authorities, police in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, arrested reputed crime boss Sreten Jocic in April on charges of organizing the bombing, according to press reports. In October, prosecutors in Zagreb and Belgrade issued simultaneous indictments of Jocic and seven others, and said the attack had been prompted by Nacional investigations into organized crime in the Balkans, news accounts said.
Violence against journalists continued, however, in 2009. In June, reporter Stjepan Mesaric of the weekly Medjimurske Novine in the northern city of Cakovec was repeatedly punched in the face, allegedly by the son of a local businessman, according to local press reports. Mesaric had just written an article about corruption in the local construction industry. Police did not charge the man who Mesaric said had punched him, and the journalist told CPJ in a telephone interview that he continued to receive threats from the alleged assailant. Police did not explain the lack of action.
At least two other journalists were under police protection in 2009 after their coverage of government corruption had elicited threats. Hrvoje Appelt of the Zagreb weekly Globus began receiving anonymous death threats in late 2008 while examining the personal business activities of then-Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, according to local press reports. Dusan Miljus received a threatening letter in March 2009 after publishing allegations that business leaders and government officials were involved in illegal arms trafficking, according to local press reports. Police reported no progress in solving a June 2008 attack against Miljus that left him with a concussion, a broken arm, and facial bruises.
Croatia has been hit by a wave of violence in recent years, reflecting Sanader’s reluctance to crack down on widespread organized crime and government corruption, some of it linked to his allies in the HDZ. The HDZ remained on the defensive for much of the year, struggling with the effects of the global economic crisis and losing political control of several major cities in May municipal elections. Sanader unexpectedly resigned in July and handed the post to his HDZ protégé, Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, as the party prepared for presidential elections in early 2010. Kosor, whose attention was focused on the economy and the country’s border dispute with Slovenia, took no significant press-related actions.
Journalists complained that media owners, fearing the loss of advertising during a recession, restricted critical coverage of the government and influential companies. In March, Appelt was dismissed by Globus after he delved into new government corruption allegations, according to local press reports. In the spring, two prominent journalists—Marinko Culic and Viktor Ivancic—were pushed out of the Rijeka daily Novi List after the newspaper’s new HDZ-aligned ownership ordered that their articles no longer be published, according to local press reports.
Journalists also cited growing politicization in the influential public broadcaster, Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), which provided generally favorable coverage to the HDZ while sidelining prominent journalists who had criticized the government. HRT executives defended their editorial policies, insisting that they were reporting on political issues of “high public interest,” the state news agency HINA reported. The Croatian Journalists’ Association criticized HRT in July for broadcasting a 50-minute speech by Sanader at an HDZ convention, saying it showed political favoritism and violated the Law on Electronic Media, HINA reported. Srecko Jurdan, a columnist for Nacional, termed the process the “HDZ-ization” of the private and public media. In November, HRT executives suspended Ana Jelinic, editor of the news program “Dossier,” claiming that its reporting on alleged government corruption was too speculative, according to local and international news reports.