The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute, expresses surprise at the latest warning of Croatia’s seven-member Electronic Media Council, an electronic regulatory body. On 19 January, 2012 the Council ordered RTL TV Croatia (RTL Hrvatska) to translate its programmes from Serbian into Croatian. The decision, based on the electronic media law, states that RTL Hrvatska is legally obliged to “broadcast in Croatian or translate into Croatian”. On the same day, RTL had to change its programming and suspend the only program that was not translated: a Serbian TV series. If the broadcaster does not abide by the decision, it could lose its licence.
Reacting to the warning, RTL replied that it considered the decision discriminatory and announced court action. It was the first time, according to the RTL press release, that the regulatory body had asked a Croatian broadcaster to translate from Serbian into Croatian. Other TV channels also broadcast series and films in Serbian and Bosnian without any translation.
The Council replied that the electronic media law did not take into consideration the connectivity between the Croatian media environment and that from neighbouring countries. Sociolinguist Ivo Zanic declared in the Croatian daily Novi List on 24 January, 2012: “It is legal, but it is stupid ...We have three neighbouring languages that are neither foreign nor domestic, they are not quite Croatian, but they are not foreign. I think that the films from Serbia and Montenegro, or generally the films from former Yugoslavia, should be exempted from the category of foreign films, from the linguistic point of view. They can be a third category.”
The language issue is politicised in former Yugoslav countries. Prior to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, in 1991, Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian were considered one language: Croatian-Serbian. After the disintegration, newly independent countries introduced their languages. Although not identical, these languages are so similar that nobody needs translation. During the past decade, films have been shown without subtitles.
SEEMO considers that translating from Serbian into Croatian or vice verse, would be like translating German films in Austria, Austrian films in Germany or Argentina or Cuban productions in Spain.
“I am surprised by the decision of the Electronic Media Council,” said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General. “If RTL is the only broadcaster that has to apply this rule, the decision is discriminatory. If all TV channels transmitting films from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro or Serbia have to translate their programs, the costs would increase considerably. In case of the public broadcaster, HRT, licence fee payers would be paying for absurd translations. The money spent on subtitles could be used to improve cultural, sport or political programs. I urge the Council to reconsider its decision or suggest legal provisions that would avoid these situations in the future. Their credibility has been seriously tarnished by this latest warning.”