Croatia: Over 70 journalists axed from public broadcaster since January

Sasa Lekovic at a Mediacentar Sarajevo event in 2013 (Photo: Mediacentar Sarajevo)

Sasa Lekovic, seen here at a Mediacentar Sarajevo event in 2013, spoke to Mapping Media Freedom about the changes at Croatia’s public broadcaster, HRT. (Photo: Mediacentar Sarajevo)

The cancellation of three radio programmes on 4 July by Croatia’s public broadcaster marks the latest in a line of sweeping changes the network has undergone since January 2016.

Two of the three shows — Audio.doc and Hidden Side of the Day — were produced by award-winning radio journalist Ljubica Letinic, while the third — Morning at Third — was considered to the Croatian Radio-Television’s (HRT) most popular. N1, a regional broadcaster, reported that the programmes will be replaced with new shows that are more appropriate to the ruling elite’s ideology, including one on Christian spirituality.

The changes at HRT have gathered momentum since Croatia’s new conservative government came to power in January 2016. More than 70 media workers at HRT have been demoted or fired and more than 10 TV and radio shows have been terminated, according to the Croatian Journalists’ Association, which has strongly condemned what it calls the deliberate destruction of HRT.

In a written response to the cancellations, CJA president Sasa Lekovic said Croatia’s minister of culture Zlatko Hasanbegovic is the force behind the “culturecide” at HRT and that the changes are motivated by the ideological differences between the conservative government and the liberal subdivisions at the public broadcaster.

In an interview with Mapping Media Freedom, Lekovic said that the purges at HRT were pre-announced, even before the conservative coalition government came to power.

“The latest developments were already announced,” Lekovic said, referring to two interviews. The first with the former Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko from 2015, and the second with Hasanbegovic from 2013.

“Karamarko in his last year’s interview for weekly Globus announced how citizens, and especially journalist, will need to behave once he comes in power,” Lekovic said. After this it was reasonable to expect that Hasanbegovic will be in charge for media, especially after his statement that the public broadcaster’s channels are being used to enact a “post-modern, neo-Yugoslav deconstruction of Croatian national and cultural identity”.

The Croatian Writers’ Society (HDP) have also condemned the recent trend of deep and substantial changes in the public broadcaster accusing the actual government of “silencing critical voices”. Lekovic told Index on Censorship that the public broadcaster was totally devastated during Karamarko and Hasanbegovic’s brief tenure.

The coalition government between conservative center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the center party Most, a political platform comprised of independent local majors, was formed after more than two months of hard and erratic negotiations. By its nature it was an unstable and shaky coalition. Hasanbegovic as a high-ranking member of HDZ shortly after seated in the chair of the minister of culture. Immediately he became publicly known for series of scandals related to ideological and historical revisionism. One of the biggest scandals was revealed by the Croatian daily Novosti. They published an article that was written by Hasanbegovic during his student days in which he expressed sympathy for the fascist Ustasha regime in World War II Croatia.   

After months of turbulence and scandals Karamarko resigned from the leader position at HDZ in June amid a corruption scandal that involved his wife. But briefly before his resignation, as a part of the intergovernmental power games, Karamarko and his party HDZ, which was the main party in the coalition, opted for a no-confidence vote for the government. The end result was Karamarko’s resignation from his position as the leader of the main ruling party, the failure of the coalition between HDZ and Most and snap elections were called for 11 September.

Despite the fact that the government lost the confidence vote, the changes at HRT continue as the broadcaster is under HDZ influence. In March, while still in power, the centre-right government installed Sinisa Kovacic, then-head of the parallel journalist association HNIP, as an acting head of HRT. Since then he has continued to implement Hasanbegovic’s vison for HRT and to reshape the broadcaster’s programmes. Since Kovacic was supposed to be in that position for maximum six months, a period that is long overdue, negotiations on his successor are underway.  

Letinic said she is skeptical about the future of Croatian journalism. “It doesn’t look good, both for journalism and journalists. The paradox is that even such journalism serves this country. It was the weekly Nacional that provoked the fall of HDZ-MOST government.”

Mapping Media Freedom

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Croatia: Controversial TV show prompts dispute in national media

croatia map

Walking around the Zagreb offices of the Electronic Media Council (AEM), Croatia’s broadcast regulator, must have had a distinctive feel to it on 26 January. According to Croatian media, outside the building stood about 5,000 demonstrators singing Croatian patriotic songs, calling for AEM chair Marjana Rakic’s resignation and carrying an effigy of her dressed as a Yugoslav Partizan and holding a machine gun. Some shouted “Za dom spremni” (“For the homeland, ready”), a Nazi-style salute used by the Ustaše regime that ruled Croatia during World War II.

The reason? An episode of Markov Trg, a TV show created by Marko Juric and broadcast by Z1 TV, which AEM punished by suspending its license for three days over claims it was “inciting hatred on the basis of race and ethnicity”.

On 19 January, Markov Trg reported that Zagreb’s Serb Orthodox clergy routinely sang “Chetnik” songs.

As Balkan Transitional Justice notes, the word “Chetnik” has a few different connotations in the former Yugoslavia. “Originally applied to Serbian royalist fighters in World War II, it later became a more pejorative expression, even more so during the wars of the 1990s when many Serbian paramilitary groups styled themselves ‘Chetniks’.”

At the end of the show, anchor and columnist Marko Juric said: “The message to residents of Zagreb, to all those taking a stroll in Cvjetni Trg [one of the squares in downtown Zagreb], is to be careful, given that this is where the [Serb Orthodox] church led by a Chetnik vicar is located.

“Beware when you are walking down Cvjetnik Trg, especially mothers with children, because one of those Chetnik vicars could run out of the church and commit a slaughter in Zagreb’s most beautiful square.

“Maybe ‘Beware of Chetnik’ signs should be put up there.”

The statement prompted a disagreement in Croatian media.

The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) was quick condemn the show, as on 21 January its president Sasha Lekovic said in a statement that the show hadn’t done any journalistic work, and was instead “irresponsible and alarming public appearance”.

“We believe that all media should keep in mind at all times that there is a fine line between verbal and actual violence,” his statement reads.

One day later, on 22 January, the AEM found that Juric had incited hatred, and suspended Z1 TV’s license for three days between 26 and 29 January.

The Association of Croatian Journalists and Publicists (HNiP), a new Croatian press association, strongly condemned the decision to suspend the broadcaster, calling it an “unprecedented, serious attack on the freedom of the media and freedom of expression”. Marko Juric is a member of the HNiP.

After that the 26 January protest, which was organised by civil war veterans, who also strongly condemned the HND’s statement, claiming they were “attacking freedom of expression, instead of protecting it”.

According to HDN reports, veterans have also sent the association a letter which “endangers the safety of journalists”, which pairs with “verbal harassment” via phone and “hate speech”. HND also criticised Croatia’s right-wing government for failing to condemn the protest and the country’s vice president for actually joining the demonstration against the regulator.

The protest is one of the episodes of an ongoing disagreement in Croatian media, where HND and HNiP have been accusing each other of suffocating media freedom and lowering journalistic standards.

HNiP was launched on 2 July 2015 by journalists dissatisfied with HND standards and “lack of democracy and world-view balance in the media”, and counts 45 members.

HND is the biggest and oldest journalists’ association in the country. It was founded in 1910, counts about 3,000 members and has joined the International Federation of Journalists in 1992. HND’s Lekovic is critical of the HNiP’s integrity. Speaking to Index on Censorship in August 2015, Lekovic said that lack of professional integrity was one of the primary threats in the Croatian media landscape.

“We have a number of media outlets, especially web portals, not following any professional standard; they are actually using media freedom against the media,” he said.

After the Z1 TV case and the protest that followed it, the dispute continued with exchanges of accusations, the HNiP said Lekovic is trying to discredit them, while HND said HNiP is part of Prime Minister Karamanko’s plan to take over the media.

At the beginning of March 2016, Croatia’s government appointed Sinisa Kovacic, president of the HNiP, as a new acting director general at the public broadcaster Croatian Radiotelevision (HRT). Since then, around 15 editors and programme directors have been replaced at HRT.

There are also now suggestions that the government is trying to replace Rakic as AEM’s president.

On 4 March, Lekovic said in a statement: “They [members of the HNiP] want to neutralise the HND and introduce unprofessional and unethical conduct in journalism, and servility to the incumbent government as a desirable model of journalist work.”

Mapping Media Freedom

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Croatia: Unsolved threats and assaults underscore rapid deterioration of media freedom

Sasa Lekovic at a Mediacentar Sarajevo event (Photo: Mediacentar Sarajevo)

Sasa Lekovic at a Mediacentar Sarajevo event in 2013 (Photo: Mediacentar Sarajevo)

Over the past few months, death threats, physical assaults and intimidation have plagued the Croatian media. This drastic deterioration of media freedom is recorded through Index’s Mapping Media Freedom. In the first year of the campaign — from May 2014 — there were 24 verified incidents in Croatia. Between May and August 2015, there were 14, a 75% rise in verified reports over the same period last year.

This surge in media violations was recently addressed by the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) and an OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media. In a statement published on its website, the CJA highlighted impunity as one of the main issues hindering media freedom throughout the country. “The CJA once again calls on authorities to find and adequately punish those who have threatened and attacked journalists, and to also find those who potentially ordered the attacks.”

The primary concern of the CJA is the long line of unresolved cases surrounding death threats and attacks on journalists. Exactly one year since freelance journalist Domagoj Margetic was brutally beaten in front of his apartment in Zagreb — an attack the Croatian State Prosecution has characterised as attempted murder — information on the attacker and the motive remain absent. Other unresolved cases include that of Antonio Mlikota, graphic editor at the Hrvatski Tjednik newsroom who was bound and threatened with a gun, and Hrvoje Simicevic, a journalist at H-Alter who was physically assaulted. There was also a series of death threats addressed to Katarina Maric Banje, a journalist for Slobodna Dalmancija, Drago Pilsel, editor-in-chief of the Autograf website, and Sasa Lekovic, the president of the CJA, along with others that have not been made public.

In light of the influx of violence, Index spoke to Lekovic, who also received a death threat. Lekovic assumes it was issued as a result of his new role, adding that the CJA makes people who want to control the media very nervous.

Discussing the most prominent threats to media freedom, he emphasised that “journalists in Croatia are under mixed pressure from politicians, media owners, mighty tycoons and organised crime.” Lekovic says this is not particularly new, adding that for almost two decades journalists have been subjected to such threats. “Generally speaking, it isn’t easy to discern the small distinction between these actors, if any.”

Although the primary threat to media freedom is self-censorship, the lack of media integrity is also a problem. “On one hand, we have a number of media outlets, especially web portals, not following any professional standard; they are actually using media freedom against the media,” Lekovic told Index. “On the other hand, we also have some laws that are used against professionals to suspend their right to serve public interest.”

In recent years, the CJA has taken multiple steps towards fostering a more relaxed and professional environment for media workers. Among other measures, they started a project called The Center for Protection of Public Speech.

“We have lawyers who are helping journalists that are in danger, including providing pro bono support and court representation. On the other hand, the CJA is going to work on ideas that better media legislation and their implementation and ones that will improve media literacy and training,” Lekovic says. “It’s all connected and is a long-term job that will not be completed overnight.”

On deteriorating media freedom, Lekovic says the current climate is notably worse than it was two years ago. He explains that “when Croatia was applying to become an EU member, it was under pressure to fulfill EU legislative requirements within the media sphere, but once the country joined the EU, nobody cared about upholding them”.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, has called on Croatian authorities to protect critical voices and to investigate the increase in attacks on journalists. Mijatovic wrote to Croatia’s Foreign Minister, Vesna Pusic, calling for swift and transparent investigations.

“As far as I am aware, all these cases remain unresolved,” Mijatovic wrote. “Condemnation coming from the highest level of government should be a clear sign that these acts of intimidation and violence against journalists will not be tolerated.”

Lekovic added that Croatia’s upcoming parliamentary election due by February 2016 is adding to the pressure.


Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at

Croatia: 35 reports since May 2014

This article was published at on 28/8/2015