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Croatia’s Proposed Media Law Condemned as ‘Death for Journalism’

Union says draft media law would facilitate government censorship and reverse hard-won media freedoms – but ministry insists it is just a proposal and it is seeking a stakeholders’ concensus.

The Croatian Journalists’ Association, HND, strongly condemned on Thursday the draft media law, saying that it represented unprecedented state interference in journalistic freedoms and in journalistic self-regulation.

The draft law, proposed by the Culture and Media Ministry, was not previously agreed on within the working group of which journalists were members, and was “slipped under the table”, the press conference heard.

According to the HND, the draft law aims to legalise censorship because it gives publishers the right not to publish a journalistic piece without an explanation.

They also condemned a proposal that journalists would have to reveal their sources of information as “dangerous“ and “death for journalism“.

The president of the HND, Hrvoje Zovko, said the working draft of the Media Act was “dangerous and its initial intention is to undermine journalistic freedoms in Croatia, what little is left”.

Zovko said that “[Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban and [Serbian President Aleksandar] Vucic might envy” a publisher’s right to remove a journalistic text without explanation.

He added that the HND will send its comments on the proposed law to parliament.

“It is devastating that the current government has not adopted a media strategy for seven years. New laws would be built on its basis. That’s totally freaky. Today, the HND is starting a campaign to remove provisions that are unacceptable,” said Zovko, adding that they had sent a letter to the Minister of Culture and Media, Nina Obuljen-Korzineki, with remarks on which they are requesting a statement.

The ministry’s wish to establish a council of media experts was also worrying, said Zovko. “We also oppose the Register of Journalists and Photojournalists. For us, this is an attempt to establish state control over journalists who should be independent,” he commented.

Drago Hedl, vice president of the HND, stated that some of the new provisions restrict freedoms that were hard to fight for. He mentioned the publisher’s right to refuse to publish a journalistic text, without notifying the author in writing.

“Let’s say my editor-in-chief had refused to publish the text about the HDZ MP who tried to bribe me; he wouldn’t have ended up in Remetinac [prison in Zagreb] last week,” noted Hedl.

It was also problematic, he said, to force journalists to reveal sources of information. “It’s dangerous,” Hedl said. He also said the proposal that only portals that also have printed editions can receive certain grants is discriminatory.

“Revealing sources would be death for journalism,” Zovko maintained.

Melisa Skender, general secretary of the HND, said the draft law looked “like an agreement under the table”.

For the HND, the so-called State Register of Journalists is absolutely disputed. Dario Spelic, a member of the working group for the drafting of the Law on Media, on behalf of the journalists’ union, said that such a register “should not exist”.

Zovko also touched on the so-called Register of Journalists: “Imagine that colleague Drago Hedl – who is a walking monument of Croatian journalism – has to request some Council of Experts to register him as a journalist. Let me see that expert who can say that Hedl does not meet the requirements to be a journalist,” said Zovko.

He added that they would send a report to the Council of Europe on this issue.

The Ministry of Culture and Media on Thursday said the government had not yet submitted the law to public discussion.

“At the meeting on July 5, the working group for the drafting of the Law on Media was presented only with a proposal of a text for discussion, in which the articles are not even numbered,” the Ministry said.

“None of what has been presented to the public is accurate or true, I express great regret that untrue theses are being published about a law which I believe must be passed by consensus of all stakeholders and which should significantly improve the status of journalists and the journalistic profession, and then provide additional incentives and support for publishers,” Obuljen Korcinek was quoted as saying.

Source : Balkan Insight

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