Italy: Journalists face fresh violence covering ‘green pass’ protests

Italy: Journalists face fresh violence covering ‘green pass’ protests

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned about yet another series of violent attacks and threats to journalists and media workers covering protests against the government’s pandemic-related measures across Italy.

Several incidents of hostility and violence towards media were reported in Rome on 9 October, when journalists and photojournalists were attacked while reporting on a protest by anti-vaccine and far-right groups against government measures to require all workers to carry the EU Digital COVID Certificate.

Photojournalist Francesco Cocco, a contributor to daily newspaper Il Foglio, said he was deliberately kicked in the groin and injured by a uniformed police officer while documenting the street protest near via Largo Chigi in the capital. Video footage captures Cocco being hit off-camera and dropping to the floor, almost dropping the equipment.

That same afternoon, Flavia Amabile, a journalist with daily newspaper La Stampa, was hit with batons by police while covering the protest near the Piazza del Popolo. First, a police officer in riot gear hit her and another photojournalist with a truncheon despite being made aware they were journalists. In a second incident, Amabile was amidst a group of protesters filming on her mobile phone when the police moved forward and began hitting people violently with truncheons.

On the same day, la Repubblica photojournalist Alessandro Serranò was also attacked with a shovel by a protester who had broken into a construction site and armed himself. Video footage shows Serranò holding a makeshift shield as a man violently swings the shovel at him. He was taken to the emergency room with minor injuries. Journalist Sara Giudice and colleagues from La7 Piazzapulita were also attacked by protesters. Police confirmed that a 52-year-old man was charged with causing aggravated injuries. A trial hearing is set for 10 December.

Two days later, on 11 October, a crew from the public broadcaster Tgr Rai in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia was threatened and had their equipment damaged as they were covering anti-green-pass protests near the port in Trieste. Journalist Alessandra Zigaina had a microphone snatched out of her hand and thrown away into the crowd. A camera was also ripped out of the operator’s hand and dropped. The crew were also pushed and insulted. During the protest march, the demonstrators stopped outside the Rai headquarters to chant anti-media slogans and shout insults.

Our organisations join Italian journalists’ rights groups in strongly condemning all these incidents of violence against the media. Concerningly, these kinds of attacks have underscored the consistent threats that journalists in Italy face while reporting on anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine pass protests. During the pandemic, MFRR monitoring organisations have documented dozens of attacks and threats against journalists and media workers by protesters in various parts of the country, both during protests and against journalists investigating or reporting on anti-vaccine and conspiracy theory groups. Abuse of journalists covering demonstrations is becoming the norm rather than an anomaly.

We call on the Italian government to urgently take action to improve the safety of journalists covering protests. There is clearly a need for improving the public’s media literacy, so they better understand the press’ role, while also duly investigating and prosecuting acts of violence and harassment. Furthermore, any acts of police brutality must be swiftly and adequately investigated through an appropriate disciplinary process. This must be paired with improved capacity-building among law enforcement personnel in coordination with representatives of the journalistic profession to generate a better understanding of journalists’ and media workers’ protection needs during demonstrations.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Netherlands: IPI condemns arrest of three journalists covering climate…

Netherlands: IPI condemns arrest of three journalists covering climate protest

Dutch police question journalists’ identity despite possession of press cards

The IPI global network today expresses serious concern over the arrest of three Dutch journalists this week who were covering daily Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in The Hague. IPI urges the police to use extreme caution while interrogating or arresting journalists at protests, especially when they have press identification.

On October 13, two Dutch journalists were arrested for covering an Extinction Rebellion protest in The Hague. One was Hans Nijenhuis, the former editor-in-chief of the national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (AD), the newspaper reported on its website. The two had been accompanying XR activists that day as part of a story on the protests.

Police intercepted the group as they were travelling in cars to the area where they planned to block a main road and arrested 25 people. Nijenhuis and his colleague, photojournalist Marco de Swart, who were with the group at the time, were taken to the police station for further investigation. De Swart’s camera equipment was confiscated.

Despite the fact that both journalists were both in possession of the press card issued by the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), and told police they were there in a professional capacity, the police claimed they had to carry out an additional identity check at the station. According to the Dutch police, the two did “present themselves as journalists”. “However we wanted to confirm their identity, which happened at the office”, a police communication officer told IPI. Both were released after two hours.

On Monday, Volkskrant journalist Mac van Dinther was detained and held for four hours for covering a similar XR protest in The Hague, which was part of “The Week of Climate Rebellion’. A police officer had obstructed Van Dinther from reporting on a violent arrest, which the journalist had allegedly called “childish”. The officer then pushed Van Dinther against a police vehicle and forcibly arrested him for allegedly insulting a police officer and refusing to cooperate.

At the time he was wearing a press card around his neck, but the officer did not believe him, reportedly saying “anyone can say they are a journalist”. He was detained The Public Prosecution Service dropped the case against the journalist but continues to justify the arrest. Van Dinther was released that same evening.

“These arrests by Dutch police are a violation of journalists’ right to report on a matter of public interest”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Police have a responsibility to use extreme caution while interrogating or arresting journalists at protests. All three of these arrests appear to have been unjustified. It is also concerning that officers refused to accept officially licensed press cards and instead hauled two journalists off the street to the police station for additional checks. When it became clear they were journalists, they should have been released immediately. Their arrests resulted in direct interference and obstruction of their reporting.”

“The arrest is very wrong”, Milen van Boldrik, Secretary of the NVJ, said of the arrests on Wednesday. “The journalists called me during the arrest and the police summoned him to end the call, but by that time I knew enough”, she told IPI.

“Journalists should be free to execute their job”, Van Boldrik continued. “They should not be taken to the police office for their identity to be checked. We give out these press cards as a proof of their identity as a journalist. We do a back-up check, and this should be enough. We see that higher officers usually understand this, but local police officers do not always take the press card seriously.” The journalists have been released and will file a complaint against the police together with the NVJ.

Greece: Justice Ministry must withdraw amendment on ‘false news’

Greece: Justice Ministry must withdraw amendment on ‘false news’

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today urge the Greek government to withdraw proposed amendments which would introduce fines and jail sentences for journalists found guilty of publishing “false news”. We believe the draft law’s vague definition and punitive sanctions would undermine the freedom of the press and have a chilling effect at a time when independent journalism is already under pressure in Greece.

The proposed amendments to Article 191 of the Criminal Code, brought forward by the Ministry of Justice, would include penalties for those found guilty of disseminating “false news that is capable of causing concern or fear to the public or undermining public confidence in the national economy, the country’s defense capacity or public health”. It adds: “If the transaction was performed repeatedly through the press or online, the perpetrator is punished with imprisonment of at least six months and a fine”. The publisher or owner of a media outlet responsible would also face prison and financial penalties.

Our organisations understand the serious threat that misinformation poses to Greek society and other states around the world. Globally, online falsehoods and conspiracy theories are distorting reality, undermining democracy and jeopardising the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Social media companies, individual citizens and governments themselves all have a role to play in countering the spread of harmful misinformation online.

However, the passing of heavy-handed legislation by governments which grants regulators or prosecutors the power to decide true from false and levy punitive fines on the press is not the correct response and would result in more harm than good. As we have seen around the globe, subjective interpretation of such vaguely worded laws can open the door to censorship of legitimate reporting. Media in Greece already face threats from abusive litigation and jail sentences for criminal defamation. Strengthening Article 191 would only create an additional avenue for journalists to face prosecution and jail time. Even when not applied directly, the potential for self-censorship under such legislation is enormous.

Like other similar legislative proposals around the world, the amendment contains no clear definition of “false news”. The term is ambiguously defined, broadly applicable and open to misuse. Particularly problematic is the sanctioning of reports “capable of causing concern” or which “undermines public confidence” in state authorities. Journalism which holds power to account naturally shakes the public’s trust in government, just as investigative reporting causes legitimate public concern or anger. Under such a vaguely worded law, this kind of vital watchdog journalism could be targeted by political leaders intent on limiting criticism of their policies. Journalistic unions in Greece have rightly criticised the amendment, warning it could lead to journalists being jailed or fined for reporting on issues such as the pandemic.

Rather than improving the existing Article 191 of the Criminal Code, which is already problematic, the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would take a major step backwards if this law were eventually passed and send a worrying signal about the administration’s commitment to media freedom. Within the European Union, similar knee-jerk reactions to tackling misinformation during the pandemic were attempted in Romania and Bulgaria: both were either vetoed or withdrawn after staunch criticism from EU institutions. The only country to press ahead was Hungary, which criminalised the spread of misinformation deemed to undermine the authorities’ fight against Covid-19 with fines and prison sentences.

We urge the Greek Ministry of Justice to withdraw the amendment immediately and, should the government decide to press ahead, call on lawmakers to reject the proposal. In an era where politicians increasingly accuse critical journalism of being “fake news”, in the wrong hands such a law would be extremely dangerous. The Ministry of Justice should meet with Greece’s journalist unions and international media freedom organisations to listen to their concerns. Ultimately, the best way to address misinformation is not through government regulation. Rather, what is needed is a strong, professional, pluralist and independent press which can provide the public with reliable sources of information. If the Greek government is serious about tackling the spread of false information, initiatives to protect the safety of (investigative) journalists, develop media literacy and ensure a strong and vibrant media market with a high degree of pluralism are far better places to start.

 

Correction: This statement was changed to reflect that the proposed amendments pertain to the Criminal Code and not the Civil Code

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Greece: Little progress on Karaivaz murder investigation six months…

Greece: Little progress on Karaivaz murder investigation six months on

After six-month anniversary of assassination, IPI urges fresh impetus in police probe

To mark the six-month anniversary of the assassination of veteran Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, the IPI global network urges Greek law enforcement authorities to redouble efforts to bring those responsible for the targeted assassination to justice. We call on authorities not to let Karaivaz’s murder become another long-running and damaging case of impunity for the killing of a journalist within the European Union.

On April 9, 2021, Karaivaz, an experienced reporter who worked for the TV channel STAR and ran a news website focusing on crime and policing, was ambushed by two men on a scooter and gunned down outside his home in broad daylight with a silenced weapon. Police said the “professional” style of the hit indicted the involvement of organised crime groups, which have carried out a number of targeted killings in recent years and which Karaivaz was known to have investigated.

Immediately after the murder, IPI and our partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) wrote to authorities including the prime minister and the minister of citizen protection urging them to ensure the probe by the Hellenic Police was conducted swiftly, thoroughly and professionally. We received no response. However, the government responded to an alert on the Council of Europe’s platform for the safety of journalists, stressing that investigations are continuing as a matter of priority and that authorities “have spared no effort in their search to identify the perpetrators and motives”.

However, despite the collection of substantial amounts of data, security camera footage and forensic analysis, since then no suspects have been publicly identified and no arrests have been made. Public information about the status of the investigation remains scarce, as details of the preliminary investigation have been kept secret under the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure. While we welcome the individual efforts of those involved in the investigation, the lack of communication from police and the Ministry of Citizen Protection means that every month that passes dents hope that those behind the killing – including potential perpetrators, facilitators, go-between and masterminds – will ever be held accountable for the crime.

This is deeply concerning, as impunity for fatal attacks on journalists remains one of the biggest issues for media freedom in the EU. In Greece, the 2010 shooting of radio manager, blogger and investigative journalist Socratis Giolias remains mired in impunity. The longer that these kinds of attacks go unpunished, the more it encourages others thinking about silencing journalists to act. The recent recommendation by the European Commission on the safety of journalists is clear: states must act swiftly to prevent the emergence of a culture of impunity regarding attacks against journalists. We urge Greek authorities to implement the recommendation.

After the six-month anniversary of the murder, and ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2, we renew our call for all those responsible to be identified and prosecuted. IPI and its partners in the MFRR intend to hold a media freedom mission to Greece in the coming months to assess the main challenges facing independent journalism. The safety of journalists and impunity will be two central themes we hope to discuss with government representatives. We hope that during this time meaningful progress can be made. In the meantime, we will continue to honour Karaivaz’s memory and push for justice for both him and his family.

ALBANIA-FLAG

Albania: MFRR urges government to scrap new Media and…

Albania: MFRR urges government to scrap new Media and Information Agency

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response today express serious concern over a new Media and Information Agency (MIA) established by the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama in Albania and urge the ruling Socialist Party to immediately cancel its establishment to ensure it will not be used to further solidify control over the flow of public information. We also urge the European Union to immediately engage with the Albanian government to raise these concerns as a matter of priority in future accession talks.

Plans for the new agency, announced during the first session of the new parliament on September 18, would centralise control over the government’s public relations within a single entity. Under new rules, spokespersons at ministries and government departments will be prohibited from talking to the media directly and public information or comment will have to be approved by the MIA’s director general, who will be appointed directly by the Prime Minister and hold a status equal to that of a government minister.

The director general will have the power to appoint and dismiss spokespersons in every ministry, as well as approve their public appearances or interviews. The MIA will also decide on journalists’ requests for interviews and organise the press conferences of the Prime Minister and other ministers. In addition, the MIA will conduct monitoring of both the press and social media to track public opinion of government activities.

The government has said the new agency, which will be financed from the state budget and unspecified “donations”, will increase transparency and unify messaging across different ministries. However, our organisations share the concerns expressed by various leading editors-in-chief, civil society groups and media unions in Albania that rather than improve journalists’ access to public information, the establishment of the MIA may result in the exact opposite.

Context is vital here. Journalists in Albania currently work in an extremely difficult climate for accessing information from government sources. The government communicates with journalists via WhatsApp groups instead of using official channels. Reporters working for independent media are regularly discriminated against when seeking information or comment from ministers. Journalists viewed as representing “opposition” outlets are denied accreditation or barred from asking questions at press conferences. Those who seek comment from officials in person sometimes face hostility and obstruction. Official Freedom of Information requests regularly go unanswered and appeals through the Information Commissioner can be lengthy, with rulings often ignored outright.

At the same time, the Prime Minister shuns press conferences and instead relies on his own TV station ERTV to create and distribute sound bites and pre-edited video clips to the press. Interviews are given to selected journalists, shielding the PM and other ministers from facing challenging questions. Under the Socialist Party, other state institutions have emulated this model and now send out pre-prepared news packages to private TV stations and newspapers. The result is that across all levels of government, journalists face significant barriers in posing questions or properly scrutinising ministries. Against this backdrop, further solidification of government control over the flow of information by a single entity risks turning what is already a drip feed of information to journalists into a desert.

The level of influence the government and the Prime Minister himself will wield over the agency is a key concern. Media reports have already suggested that Endri Fuga, a close ally of the PM who spearheaded his public relations for the last eight years, has already secured the role of director general. His appointment would mirror that of another key ally, Ermela Krasniqi, to head the country’s Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA). This selective placement of two loyalists to lead institutions overseeing the regulation of media raises serious questions over their independence and impartiality and violates international standards.

Meanwhile, the oversized ability of the director general to hire and fire spokespersons – previously the responsibility of individual ministries – also poses questions over accountability and transparency. We are concerned that the MIA’s bilateral agreement with the public broadcaster Albanian Radio-Television (RTSH), which has operated without a director general for more than seven months now, may open the door to increased influence over its coverage. Likewise, plans for the MIA to distribute its own content about government activities in the manner of a state press agency raises additional concern over political influence and lack of impartiality. Following major revelations about the collection of citizen’s data by political parties via state institutions, the notion of tax-payer money being used to fund the monitoring of the press and social media by a government agency also sets alarm bells ringing.

In the longer term, this agency ultimately risks being a powerful tool for any government current or future to control the flow of public information to the media and to influence what citizens read, hear and watch. The role of journalists is to act as a filter between government and citizens. Limiting their ability to do so by constraining opportunities to question officials and side-lining critical journalists severely limits the ability of the press to do its job and hold power to account.

With the freedom of the media a cornerstone of Albania’s accession to the EU, it is vital that the EU mission in Tirana and the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi immediately respond to this latest development and address the concerns raised by our organisations and others. Until greater safeguards can be established to ensure the MIA operates in a fair and transparent manner, we urge the government to cancel its establishment pending consultation with national and international journalist groups.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Czech Republic

IPI condemns exclusion of journalists during Babiš-Orbán press conference

IPI condemns exclusion of journalists during Babiš-Orbán press conference

Several Czech and foreign journalists blacklisted and denied entry to prime ministers’ joint press conference.

 

The IPI global network today joins its Czech National Committee and the Endowment Fund for Independent Journalism (NFNZ) in condemning the discriminatory exclusion of certain foreign and domestic journalists from a joint press conference held by the prime ministers of Hungary and the Czech Republic.

On Wednesday, September 29, journalists from various European and Czech media were denied admittance to an afternoon press briefing by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in the Czech city of Ústí nad Labemof, which focused on defence, migration and the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those denied entry were Jean-Baptiste Chastand and Magdalena Sodomková from French daily Le Monde, Martin Nejezchleba from the German weekly Die Zeit, and journalists from the German regional public broadcaster MDR and the Czech news websites Seznam Zprávy and Investigace.cz. Other investigative and freelance journalists were also barred.

The press department of the office of the government said the decision was taken due to capacity constraints. However, images of a list of reporters who had applied to attend with some names highlighted in red were circulated on social media. Those barred applied for accreditation well in advance. According to a correspondent for Czech Radio, there was ample space in the event hall.

“IPI strongly opposes this unnecessary obstruction of free journalistic work and condemns the discriminatory policy of barring journalists from certain media from attending press conferences”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Worryingly, this is a tactic we see used all too often by the governments of both Orbán and Babiš, and across the Visegrad region, to side-line critical press and shield politicians and public officials from challenging questions.

“While independent and critical journalists in Hungary have been routinely denied access to publicly held information without explanation and denied accreditation for official events for years, similar incidents have recently been on the rise in the Czech Republic. We urge both prime ministers and their governments to respect press freedom by providing fair and equal access and allowing journalists to carry out their work free from arbitrary obstruction and restrictions.”

Last year, IPI and the partner organisation of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) sent an open letter to the government of the Czech Republic raising concerns about its side-lining of critical media during similar press conferences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists from certain media outlets, including Forum 24, were repeatedly denied accreditation and barred from attending online government press conferences or questioning officials on their handling of the health crisis.

In May 2021, the head of the Office of the President of the Czech Republic, Vratislav Mynář, announced the office would stop providing information to several media outlets, including Respekt, Seznam Zprávy, Deník N, Czech Television (CT) staff working for 168 hours and other reporters from the public television.

United Kingdom: MFRR partners join call for justice for…

United Kingdom: MFRR partners join call for justice for Martin O’Hagan

Twenty years ago today, Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan was shot dead in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. To this day, no one has been held to account for his brutal murder. The undersigned partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) stand in solidarity with O’Hagan’s family, colleagues and friends as we call for justice in his case.

On 28 September 2001, O’Hagan was shot several times from a passing car while walking home from a local pub with his wife, who was not hurt in the attack. As a reporter, O’Hagan specialised in stories about drug gangs and paramilitary organisations. Over the years, he had repeatedly been threatened as a result of his journalistic work.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), of which O’Hagan was a member, has been leading the call for a panel of international experts to be convened to investigate the unsolved murder and the subsequent police failings. Amidst growing worries about the safety of journalists in Northern Ireland, the MFRR shares the deep concern over the failure to hold those responsible to account and the implications of this enduring legacy of impunity, and supports the NUJ in their campaign for justice for Martin O’Hagan. It is long overdue.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)

Media in Croatia, unprecedented censorship

Media in Croatia, unprecedented censorship

The Zagreb court applied temporary and preventive censorship against the H-Alter portal and journalist Jelena Jindra, effectively banning the publication and writing of further articles on the Municipal Children and Youth Protection Polyclinic and its director. Toni Gabric, chief editor of H-Alter, explains this unprecedented decision.

On Tuesday 21 September, the Zagreb court banned the H-Alter portal from publishing further articles on the Municipal Children and Youth Protection Polyclinic and its director Gordana Buljan Flander. The decision sparked a wave of controversy and led to the resignation of Buljan Flander herself. For the chief editor of H-Alter, Toni Gabric, as well as for the Association of Croatian Journalists, this is unprecedented censorship.

What happened last week and what is the Zagreb court decision about?

The court decision bans journalist Jelena Jindra from publishing further articles on the Zagreb Children and Youth Protection Polyclinic and its director Gordana Buljan Flander on our H-Alter website, because they would be defamatory of them.

This decision was made in a preventive form, i.e. without waiting for the conclusion of the trial, which has yet to begin. How is it possible?

As far as I know, this is the first time that the law on compulsory compliance has been applied to the media sector. Our constitution clearly states that press censorship is prohibited, but here a shortcut has been found to get to censorship. Of course, how much this is sustainable from a legal point of view remains to be seen: according to our lawyer, Vanja Juric, the request made by the Polyclinic does not stand, legally speaking, and the judge has just copied and pasted.

This decision comes after a series of articles written by Jelena Jindra and published by H-Alter on the Polyclinic, which plays a role in the custody of children in non-consensual divorce cases. The management of director Gordana Buljan Flander was heavily criticised there. Now you are prohibited from writing on the subject again. How do you plan to proceed?

The Polyclinic has one month to start a libel suit. I guess they will ask for moral damages. We cannot cover this subject until then. If the Polyclinic does not initiate the lawsuit, then they will be the ones to have committed an infringement, because this decision is linked to that future cause. We, on the other hand, have until the end of this week to appeal the court decision.

Last weekend, Zagreb mayor Tomislav Tomasevic intervened and dissolved the board of directors of the Polyclinic. Soon after, the director resigned. Do you think the lawsuit will be withdrawn?

Yes, the polyclinic is a municipal institution and the mayor, before changing the board, declared that it is unacceptable to forbid writing about a public institution. So I think the polyclinic, once the new council has been chosen, will back down. What remains to be seen, however, is what the now former director Gordana Buljan Flander, who has filed a personal suit, will do. I think that cause will stand.

Croatia already has a problem of strategic lawsuits (SLAPP) against the media. Is this a new way to silence the press, or will this type of action not be followed up?

It is certainly a very good thing that the whole audience reacted. Everyone in parliament condemned the decision, on the left as well as on the right, even those deputies that H-Alter does not hesitate to attack in its articles. I think a red line has been crossed and for this reason the Minister of Culture [also responsible for the media, ed.] intervened immediately, as did the Prime Minister… Of course, I feel like saying to the government that condemning is not enough, but we must intervene so that these things don’t happen. It may be that the request and the decision are badly written from a legal point of view, but there is still a legal process that has allowed all this. We need to intervene at the legislative level.

What does this series of articles on the Zagreb Polyclinic consist of?

The best person to answer this question would be colleague Jelena Jindra, author of the articles. It all started a year or two ago. This is an investigation into the child abduction procedure, which is carried out implicitly and without much debate. It is a process that does a lot of damage to children, to parents who are separating, and especially to mothers who are victims of domestic violence. There are cases in which children are entrusted to the father guilty of violence against his wife and children. Indeed, there are cases of sexual violence perpetrated by the father also on the children, and in which the children were still entrusted to the father. It is not the practice, but there are such cases. Jelena Jindra has been able to prove that the Polyclinic generally entrusts the child to the most powerful parent and it is clear that, in this patriarchal society, it is often the man.

The articles aroused great interest in the Croatian public.

Yes. There are ten articles, published starting from 15 July, in a period in which visits to the H-Alter portal usually decrease, but this year they have instead increased. The story gained even more visibility when Severina Vuckovic, the famous pop singer known throughout the region, openly supported the articles by Jelena Jindra. Severina fought for a long time to obtain the custody of the son that she won a few weeks ago. When the singer granted an interview to our colleague, the story became a media bomb. It is paradoxical: a small media outlet, which due to the government policy on the media has been in danger of closure for years, has managed to set the agenda on a topic that had been previously ignored. It is a victory, proof that the non-profit media have an important role.

The non-profit media have been in trouble in recent years due to the decline in funds allocated by the government. Is H-Alter in this situation too?

Yes. We have been around for about 15 years. Initially we were financed by the National Foundation for the Development of Civil Society (NZRCD), then the Social Democratic-led government (2011–2016) decided, with the aim of increasing those funds, to transfer the competence to the Ministry of Culture. The subsequent conservative-led executive suspended funds for the nonprofit media and things have not changed substantially since then. So, when the minister says she cares about the independence of the media, she is actually lying.

Croatia: Temporary reporting injunction on the Association of Independent…

Croatia: Temporary reporting injunction on the Association of Independent Media Culture must be lifted

The Municipal Civil Court of Zagreb, Croatia, imposed a temporary reporting injunction on the publisher of the news website H-alter following a series of articles about the Child and Youth Protection Centre’s work irregularities. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates, the Croatia Journalists’ Association (CJA) and the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists (TUCJ), in denouncing a direct form of censorship.

On 21 September 2021, the Croatian judiciary ordered to stop the articles’ publication and to bar H-alter from further investigation into the actions of the Health Polyclinic for the Protection of Children and Youth of the City of Zagreb, the only social welfare authority in Croatia which provides assistance to abused and neglected children, as well as its director Gordana Buljan Flander. The Court made its ruling without hearing from the journalist Jelena Jindra, her editor, or the publisher. Two days later, Flander announced her resignation live on television.

This interim measure of prohibition was issued on the basis of the Enforcement Act, which is usually used against privacy-violating content in the media sector. This is the first temporary measure that forbids all potential future contributions about a person and an institution.

The measure was taken following the publication of a five-part reporting series entitled “System for the Protection or Abuse of Children?” published on H-Alter in July 2021 by Jelena Jindra. Jindra critically reported on the clinic and in particular its director Gordana Buljan Flander and her associates. She interviewed numerous mothers who discussed their experiences with what they claimed was the abuse of “parental alienation” concept by partners after divorce or separation, and the role the clinic played in the system. The journalist repeatedly made requests for comment that remained unanswered.

A joint press release from the CJA and the TUCJ expressed great concerns about what they consider to be a dangerous and unprecedented attempt of silencing the media. They called on media outlets to publish Jindra’s articles in solidarity: “After years of witnessing SLAPP lawsuits against journalists, this time the judiciary went a step further and directly decided to silence the media. It should be noted that the director of the Polyclinic Mr. Buljan Flander and her associates, according to the testimony of colleagues, have repeatedly missed the opportunity to present to the public their view of the controversial doctrine of alienation which some experts testify often abuses against women victims of violence.”

Ricardo Gutiérrez, EFJ General Secretary, reacted: “This direct form of censorship of critical journalism is deeply disturbing and must be lifted immediately. The lack of transparency behind this decision – whether temporary or not – is unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent.”

MFRR partners concerned about wave of abusive legal actions…

MFRR partners concerned about wave of abusive legal actions against Croatian outlet

The undersigned partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned about the wave of abusive legal actions against Croatian online news outlet Index.hr. Its publisher Index Promocija d.o.o. is currently facing 56 defamation lawsuits and nine further defamation suits target its journalists. Three of the cases additionally include claims based on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and anti-discrimination and copyright law. The oldest active case dates back to 2013, and the most recent was filed this year.

We consider that several lawsuits filed against index.hr have many of the hallmarks of abusive litigation which are used by powerful individuals and companies as a means of silencing critical expression. They share several characteristics. For one, the plaintiffs are mostly public figures such as politicians and business owners, including former Member of Parliament Branimir Glavaš, former government ministers Tomislav Tolušić and Mijo Crnoja and the current President of the Chamber of Commerce Luka Burilović, among others. Glavaš, for instance, filed defamation lawsuits after Index.hr referred to him in an article as a “war criminal”. He served as a general in the war between Croatia and Serbia and was convicted for the 1991 killings of Serbian civilians in Osijek, spending five years in prison; he was released after the Constitutional Court sent the case back for retrial, which is now pending. In another example, Crnoja, the former Minister of Veterans, sued for defamation in relation to a story concerning controversial loans of several million euros.

Another shared characteristic is that the plaintiffs usually request the removal of the articles and damages ranging between 10,000 and 100,000 HRK (approximately 1,330 to 13,300 euros). The cases, taken together, constitute a significant burden on resources of Index.hr and many appear to be instituted with a view to silencing its critical reporting and, beyond the outlet, creating a “chilling effect” on press freedom in general. Several lawsuits against index.hr are part of a worrying trend across Europe, in which powerful actors use abusive lawsuits to bully and intimidate journalists to avoid scrutiny and escape accountability.

Under the well-established case law of the European Court of Human Rights, public figures must be tolerant of higher levels of public scrutiny and criticism than private persons. With this in mind, we call on those plaintiffs who have launched abusive claims aimed only at silencing the outlet rather than achieving justice, to drop their lawsuits immediately.

In the meantime, we stand in solidarity with the outlet and will continue to monitor developments closely.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)