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Croatian journalists stage protest against abusive lawsuits

Andrej Plenkovic, Prime Minister of Croatia, speaks at the European Council during a two day EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, 14 December 2018
Andrej Plenkovic, Prime Minister of Croatia, speaks at the European Council during a two day EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, 14 December 2018

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on europeanjournalists.org on 5 March 2019.

Several hundred journalists rallied in Zagreb on Saturday to protest against a wave of lawsuits targeting the media. According to the Croatian Journalists' Association (HND), an EFJ affiliate, which organized the march, politicians, public figures and corporations had filed over 1,100 lawsuits against journalists and news outlets. HND says these court cases are part of an attempt to censor the media and put pressure on journalists.

The protest was called after Croatian public broadcaster HRT itself filed 36 lawsuits against its own journalists and others, including HND head Hrvoje Zovko and HND branch in Public Service Media, who complained of censorship. Most of the court cases involve compensation claims for alleged nonmaterial damages such as "mental anguish" or "tarnished reputation."

HND plans to deliver its demands against censorship in the media to the Croatian government. Hrvoje Zovko says "the government is ignoring the problem because they believe ignoring the problem is the solution."

Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenkovic said on Monday that EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez was not well informed about the situation of press freedom in the country. "Mr. Plenkovic claims we were manipulated! We don't care about Mr. Plenkovic's impressions and feelings," reacted today the EFJ GS. "We ask him to answer the facts:

Is it normal, in a European Union country, for journalists to be the target of no less than 1,163 legal proceedings?

Is it normal for the public broadcaster to use public money to intimidate journalists through 36 lawsuits?

Is it normal for the Croatian authorities to remain unresponsive following the publication of a European report which states that editorial autonomy is at its lowest in the country, compared to all other EU member states?

Is it normal for the Croatian authorities to remain passive following the publication of a European report denouncing the constant political interference in the management of the public broadcaster?

Is it normal that the level of independence of the Croatian broadcaster/s management and financing is worse than in Turkey or Serbia?"

"We urge the Prime Minister to get to work: it is time for Croatia to take concrete steps to limit abusive prosecutions against journalists, and to ensure the full independence of public media. We do not expect feelings, but actions."

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