Croatia: Pressure on journalists and critical media

Although Croatia became independent in 1991 its media continue to be marked by the war surrounding the break-up of Yugoslavia and the transition from a socialist to a democratic society.

HRT TV Studio. (Flickr, JasonParis, CC BY 2.0)
HRT TV Studio. (Flickr, JasonParis, CC BY 2.0)
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 2014 the lawyer Marijan Hanžeković bought a 90 percent share in Croatia’s biggest media group EPH from the state-owned Austrian bank Hypo Alpe Adria. The bank had acquired the shares earlier in the year from the German Funke Group (formerly Waz) and media Mogul Ninoslav Pavić. Hanžeković EPH renamed itself Hanza Media in 2016, in preparation for selling, according to observers.

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 situation of journalists has worsened since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. Newspaper have been closed down as a result of austerity measures, newsrooms have been merged and salaries axed. More than 2,000 journalists have lost their jobs in the past five years. Overall newspaper circulation dropped by 53 percent between 2008 and 2013.

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. The conservative government that has been in power since October 2016 has stopped funding such projects, with the result that alternative media are on the brink of financial ruin. The outlet forum.tm reacted by launching a crowdfunding campaign and autograph.hr has reduced its output and is asking its readers for donations.

Press Freedom Rating:

Reporters Without Borders: 74th place (2017)
Freedom House: 84th place – status: free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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