CROATIA: SEEMO Questions Respect for Freedom of Expression at Croatian Public Broadcaster (HRT)

CROATIA, 08/05/2012

Croatian public broadcaster, Croatian Radio Television (HRT) has recently experienced a series of internal incidents in which political representatives and public figures have reportedly exerted pressure on the public broadcaster.

The latest incident, one among many in the past year, occurred on 4 May 2012, one day after the celebration of World Press Freedom Day. Veteran journalist Elizabeta Gojan was warned that she could be dismissed from her job after she criticized HRT practices in a speech on World Press Freedom Day and in interviews with Deutsche Welle and the Split-based daily Slobodna Dalmacija.

Gojan said that scandals, irregularities and internal bickering at HRT have undermined the quality of its programming and that a decreasing number of people are tuning in. On all occasions, Gojan reportedly expressed her opinion in her capacity as a journalist and as a representative of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND).

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), today expressed concern with the developments at HRT, noting that Gojan is not the only journalist to have recently been warned that she could lose her job. On 22 April 2012, another high-profile journalist, Maja Server, editor of the show “Croatia Life”, received a warning of possible dismissal for an alleged professional mistake.

The two incidents are the latest among a series of incidents that have reportedly plagued HRT for some time, and SEEMO today called on HRT’s board and its management to create and ensure an atmosphere of trust and confidence with both its journalists and its audience.

As SEEMO reported on 19 January 2012, the then-recently-appointed government promised to address the problems of the public broadcaster. On 16 January 2012, Culture Minister Andrea Zlatar-Violic met with journalists, editors and representatives of non-governmental organisations and different professional organizations to discuss problems at 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. The Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND) and 26 other NGOs signed a statement demanding the professionalisation of the public broadcaster and an end to political pressure and censorship.

However, problems have reportedly continued. The latest dismissal warnings generated numerous protests in Croatia and another public appeal signed by more than 20 NGOs. The new public letter, dated 8 May 2012, asked the Ministry of Culture to protect HRT journalists and to respect press freedom. It also demanded the solution to all the pending problems.

Laws regulating the public broadcaster are currently being discussed.

SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic commented: “I call on Croatia’s authorities and the HRT management to respect that staff should be able to work independently, without pressure, and to respect freedom of expression. Journalists cannot be dismissed on the basis that they questioned the quality of public service. Public broadcasters are meant to produce information of public interest and they should be a trustworthy source of information.”

He added: “I do hope that the new law, soon to be adopted, will provide a solid basis for eliminating the problems that have undermined HRT’s work. I also hope that freedom of expression and professional reporting will be respected.”

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