CROATIA: SEEMO Considers that Draft Amendments to Croatian Radio Television Law Will Institutionalise Political Control over the Public Broadcaster

CROATIA, 21/06/2012

One year after promulgating the latest version of Croatia’s public service broadcasting law, passed in December 2010, the Croatian Radio Television Law  is about to be amended again. It is expected that the latest draft proposal, finalized in June 2012, will be discussed in the country’s parliament by July 2012. Although the December 2010 law was formulated in such a way as to guarantee the political independence of the public broadcaster, it did not meet those expectations. Management problems, political meddling and nepotism prevailed. High profile scandals and suspensions of journalists were aired on TV.

The new proposed amendments, however, would give the parliament the upper hand in choosing and appointing the director general, as well as the programming council and monitoring committee members.

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), believes that the latest amendments would allow for political interference in the public broadcaster’s management. In SEEMO’s view, this legal solution does not comply with international standards of public broadcasting.

On 19 January 2012, SEEMO reported on the problems facing Croatian Radio Television (HRT) and urged the newly installed government to create a legal and institutional environment for the proper functioning of the public broadcaster. In fact, on 16 January 2012, the newly installed Minister of Culture Andrea Zlatar met with journalists, editors, representatives of NGOs and different professional organisations in order to address the problems related to HRT.  The meeting ended with a joint appeal calling, among other things, for an end to political meddling, censorship and nepotism, as well as for transparency, a clear strategy and respect for professional standards.

Several months passed after that meeting before the situation deteriorated:  new scandals erupted; high-profile suspensions followed and some members of the HRT governing bodies have resigned.

The June 2012 draft amendments to the Croatian Radio Television Law stipulate that the parliament will be in charge of all the bodies governing and overseeing the Croatian television: the Programme Council, the Director General and the Monitoring Committee. HRT director general and members of the above mentioned bodies will be chosen and appointed by the Parliament. However, the 11-member Programme Council will also count with two members representing the HRT journalists. SEEMO is concerned that these proposed legal solutions would institutionalise political interference.

According to the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND), it has apparently been impossible to change the current management without changing the law. However, HND president Zdenko Duka pointed out that journalists should have a greater say in the choice of HRT editor-in-chief. It is foreseen that journalists will have a non-binding consultative role in the choice of HRT editor in chief.

 “I do understand that HRT needs urgent changes. However, I am concerned that the proposed legal solutions will not create the necessary framework for establishing an independent public broadcaster. The government should analyse the best international practices and consult with international media experts and specialised organisations in order to avoid future mistakes,” said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic.

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