Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution, but media outlets are still influenced by various political and economic interests. Amendments to the criminal code that were passed in June 2006 and took effect in October eliminated imprisonment as a punishment for libel, leaving fines as the only sanction. If a person convicted of libel does not pay the fine, the court is authorized to seize his or her assets, and in the absence of adequate assets the individual is obliged to perform community service. Government officials occasionally use libel laws against the media. In August, Croatian president Stjepan Mesic sued the daily Vecernji List for running a reprint of an article claiming that Mesic had a supervisory role in the secret service of the former Yugoslavia. Although the paper also printed the president’s response to the claims, Mesic proceeded with the suit, arguing that the paper had attacked him for political reasons.
Political interference and undue pressure on the media persist. In July, the Croatian Journalists Association protested the government’s appointments to the advisory board for the state news agency Hina, alleging that the new appointees—who included a veterinarian, a recent law school graduate, and an owner of a political marketing firm—lacked qualifications and were essentially political lackeys. However, the government in October asked Parliament to dismiss the board after a disagreement over its selection of a general manager, and lawmakers complied with the request in December. Also in December, two journalists from the state-owned Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) were temporarily suspended for broadcasting a speech from the early 1990s in which Mesic appeared to speak favorably about Croatia’s Fascist past. Following the incident, Mesic publicly condemned the journalists’ suspension. The two journalists were later reinstated following a decision by HRT’s Ethics Council that they had not violated the HRT code of conduct. Journalists remain exposed to physical threats and violence. In particular, the issue of war crimes remains a sensitive topic, and journalists face pressure and intimidation if their reporting challenges the virtue of Croatia’s role in the 1991–1995 Balkans conflict. At least in some instances, these attacks are instigated by local officials. Drago Hedl, a journalist for the weekly Feral Tribune, received death threats in May linked to an article accusing local officials of committing war crimes. In response, police granted Hedl protection and later arrested two individuals, one of whom was a local politician. In another incident, a reporter from Nova Television was allegedly attacked both physically and verbally in July by the mayor of Novalja, who sought to prevent her from reporting on water shortages on the island of Pag.
Approximately 140 radio stations and 15 television channels operate in Croatia, and 2 out of 3 national television stations are privately owned. Many Croats also have access to various European channels via satellite. HRT is the market leader at the national level, and the state remains the single largest media owner. The press has increasingly been used as a tool by media owners to promote their business and political interests. Several prominent journalists expressed concerns in 2006 that the media were becoming subverted to the interests of powerful advertisers, who were able to control content by threatening to redirect their sponsorship. The state does not restrict the foreign press or internet use, and more than 30 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2006.