Croatia: journalists live dangerously

The number of attacks and threats against Croatian journalists is rising steadily. Attempts by politicians to influence their coverage are also jeopardising press freedom in the country.

A graffiti of Slobodan Praljak near the city of Bilice in Croatia. The convicted war criminal committed suicide in the courtroom.
A graffiti of Slobodan Praljak near the city of Bilice in Croatia. The convicted war criminal committed suicide in the courtroom.
The Croatian Association of Journalists (HND) recorded twelve incidents in 2017, including death threats and attacks on journalists. The situation came to a head after coverage of the suicide of convicted war criminal Slobodan Praljak at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which triggered a massive wave of threats and intimidation against journalists from various media outlets, particularly online.

In addition to direct attacks, Reporters Without Borders also sees Croatian press freedom under threat as a result of politicians' attempts to influence journalists, and in particular in view of pressure from the conservative government on state television, as well as constant budget cuts for non-profit media. Defamation is also considered a criminal offence in Croatia, and insulting the Republic, its symbols, the national anthem or the flag can carry a prison sentence of up to three years.

Even after the privatisation of the media in the 1990s, most of the major print media and the public radio station HRT remained subject to the influence, manipulation and control of state institutions.

As the country stabilised politically and moved towards democracy at the beginning of 2000, an growing number of media organisations were acquired by the foreign media groups that today dominate the Croatian media market. RTL and Nova TV (CME Group) share the national television market with HRT. The dailies with the largest circulations are now published by Hanza Media, formerly Europapress Holding EPH, (Jutarnji List, Slobodna Dalmacija, Globus) and by the Austrian Styria Media Group AG (24 Sata, Večernji List).

In a country the size of Croatia, the concentration of the media in a few hands has brought the media and the state apparatus as well as the main parties HDZ and SDP dangerously close together, constituting a threat to press freedom. Time and again journalists have reported the interference of media companies and state and party functionaries in their work. This became all too apparent in 2016 during the six-month term of office of nationalist-conservative Prime minister Tihomir Orešković. The top posts at state broadcaster HRT were redistributed and state support for critical online media was terminated.

The online market is likewise dominated by the big media companies, who try to use the online sector to compensate for their losses in the print business. The private television broadcasters offer general information for free on their websites, but are increasingly introducing paywalls for online access to their television programmes. The newspaper publishers have followed a similar business model, whereby their print editions are available only as paid subscriptions online.

Driven by economic hardship and journalistic commitment, more and more renowned journalists are using the Internet to establish themselves with independent portals such as autograf.hr or forum.tm as alternatives to mainstream media. In October 2016, under the conservative government of Tihomir Orešković, funding for such projects was discontinued, pushing the alternative media to the brink of ruin. Forum.tm responded with a crowdfunding campaign, while autograf.hr reduced its article count and asked for donations. This course has been maintained by the equally conservative government of Andrej Plenković.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Border):
Rank 69 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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