Croatia moved up five places in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index from 2018 to 2019 but now remains stuck in 64th place, lagging far behind other European countries - neighbouring Slovenia is 30 slots ahead in 34th place. Croatian journalists are having to fend off political pressure and accusations of libel.
In Croatia, state control of the press goes back to the 1990s, when particularly during the war and after the privatisation of the media most of the leading print publications and HRT were subject to the influence, control and manipulation of state institutions.
A climate of fear and self-censorship
Threats and attacks, both online and offline, are also commonly used to suppress critical reporting. Journalists who report on issues such as corruption, war crimes or organised crime are particularly vulnerable.
Legal action is another method used to intimidate media professionals: the country’s defamation law, which foresees prison sentences of up to three years for insulting the Republic, its symbols, or the national anthem or flag, is still in force. And although the offence of "exposure" was abolished in 2019, private lawsuits against journalists for insults and defamation are becoming increasingly frequent, often entailing horrendous compensation sums. This is creating a climate of fear and self-censorship in editorial offices. According to the Ministry of Justice, a total of 255 lawsuits were filed against journalists in Croatia between 2015 and 2018 for insult, exposure and defamation. About half of them are still pending.
One positive development at the beginning of 2020 was the addition of the offence of "coercion of a person carrying out his or her work in the public interest or public service" to the Penal Code. The Minister of the Interior said that the legislation was also introduced to protect journalists. The law provides for prison sentences of up to five years for such offences.
Foreign media dominate the market
The Croatian media industry is dominated by foreign media groups that bought their way into the market during the country’s phase of stabilisation and democratisation in the early 2000s. The daily papers 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). Through its subsidiary RTL Hrvatska, the German Bertelsmann Group owns three TV broadcasters, and Nova TV and Doma TV belong to the US company United Group. In a country as small as Croatia, this concentration of ownership in the hand of a few has brought the media and state apparatus, as well as the media and the main parties HDZ and SDP, dangerously close together, and now constitutes a real threat to press freedom.
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.
In 2016 the government suspended its support for independent, alternative media, a move which has driven these outlets to the brink of ruin. But despite their struggling finances, websites like Forum.tm and Autograf.hr are managing to survive with the help of donations and EU funds. Moreover, thanks to advertising and marketing, larger platforms like Index.hr und Telegram.hr have secured a measure of independence that allows them to do investigative journalism and has led to the exposure of numerous scandals and the resignations of several ministers.
World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 64 (2020)
Last updated: April 2020