Croatia, journalists on the streets

Croatia, journalists on the streets

Hundreds of journalists took to the streets in Zagreb against the Plenković government’s amendments to the Criminal Code, which limit the right to report. According to the Association of Croatian Journalists, the prime minister wants to silence investigations into his government’s corruption.


By Giovanni Vale

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA

Several hundred people demonstrated yesterday in Zagreb in front of the government building against the new amendments to the Criminal Code which criminalise the unauthorised publication of the contents of an investigation with penalties of up to three years in prison. According to representatives of the press, it is a “gag law”, or rather a “law with bad intentions”, as Hrvoje Zovko, the president of the Association of Croatian Journalists (HND), the initiator of the demonstration, nicknamed it.

“No one will dare to inform journalists anymore if they know that they can be mistreated by justice for years. And so, the already widespread practice of corruption will continue”, Hrvoje Zovko said yesterday into the megaphone, before asking Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to “withdraw article 307a”, otherwise – he promised – “the demonstrations will continue”. The text of the law proposed by the government is currently being discussed in the Sabor, the Croatian parliament.

The modification of the criminal code had been announced by the Croatian prime minister already in February last year, when Plenković – stung by yet another scandal revealed by the press and concerning his government – had said: “we will modify the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Criminal Code and situations like this, where information from our archives is made public in an uncontrolled, deliberate, political, selective and organised way, causing political problems, will not happen again”.

Since coming to power in 2016, Plenković has had to replace 30 ministers in his government, mostly due to corruption scandals revealed in the press. Precisely for this reason, trade organisations fear that behind the amendment to the Criminal Code suggested by the Prime Minister there is no desire to protect those under investigation from undue publications, but simply to silence investigations into his government’s corruption.


Clint Eastwood

“As Clint Eastwood put it, you can’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining!”, said yesterday Maja Sever, the president of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and head of the Croatian Union of Journalists (SNH). “Andrej Plenković wants to avoid having ‘political problems’, as he himself said in February 2023”, she declared, “but we are not sheep and it is not a problem for us to continue with the demonstrations!”. Hence the l last-minute intervention by the Croatian government, which on Tuesday evening had tried to calm the anger of journalists by promising to introduce an exception for facts of public interest into the new article 307a of the Criminal Code. “Who should determine which facts are of public interest?”, asked investigative journalist Drago Hedl, who then added, “and who will define who is a journalist and who is not?”.

As proposed by the government, the new crime of unauthorised disclosure of investigative content would not punish journalists, but “exclusively participants in criminal proceedings”, such as “judicial officials, defendants, lawyers, witnesses, judicial experts and so on”, as Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in recent weeks.

“Is a journalist someone who has graduated in journalism? Or is it exclusively someone who is employed in an editorial office?”, Drago Hedl continued, before adding: “We are not here today for fear of ending up in prison for having published information coming from an investigation, we are here in the interest of the profession, of journalism as a public good, which works in the interest of the community”.


Women’s rights hostage of the government

Another point that has concerned Croatian journalists is linking the approval of the new article 307a to another amendment to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, which instead received bipartisan support in parliament. This involves the introduction of the crime of femicide and in general a tightening of penalties for gender violence and sexual abuse and mistreatment.

“This is a new low. Plenković, we will remember you for this!”, exclaimed yesterday the president of the HND Hrvoje Zovko, who recalled how the current Croatian prime minister is the one who provoked the greatest number of protests organised by HND during his tenure. Opposition MPs also criticised the government for proposing the two amendments in a single package. “You can have more protection for women victims of violence, but only if you protect me from corruption scandals”, summed up MP Sandra Benčić from the opposition Možemo party.


Election year

The changes to the Criminal Code also come at a very delicate moment for Croatia, facing three elections this year. Citizens will vote in June to renew the European Parliament, in September to elect the Croatian parliament and in December to choose the new President of the Republic. Andrej Plenković will lead the HDZ in search of a third term as prime minister and pressure on the media, especially local ones, is already increasing.

The risk is that press freedom will be curtailed in Croatia, particularly in light of the government’s recent appointment of a controversial attorney general. This is Ivan Turudić, “who for seven years conducted proceedings against journalist Dražen Ciglenečki because in his article he had compared him to Vojislav Šešelj, and for which […] he obtained compensation of 90,000 kuna [almost 12,000 Euros, editor’s note] for moral damages, after initially asking for almost twice as much”, said Sanja Pavić of the non-governmental organisation Gong yesterday. According to Pavić, in Croatia there are currently “concerning regressive trends for freedom of speech and journalism”.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Croatia, the assault on the local press

Croatia, the assault on the local press

2024 is the year of elections for Croatia: European, political and presidential elections will take place between next June and December. And with the electoral competitions, the race for control of the local media, particularly the regional ones, is gaining ground in a hardly transparent way.


By Giovanni Vale

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA and BHS

2024 will be a big election year in Croatia. Voting takes place in June to renew the European Parliament, in September to elect the Sabor and in December to choose the new President of the Republic. This “super izborna godina” – or “super election year” as the Croatian press has already christened it – is a crucial moment for the country. The new political balance will be decided in the next twelve months and the results will also influence the local elections to be held in 2025.

In short, the stakes are very high and the Association of Croatian Journalists (HND) looks with concern at the latest changes in the Croatian media landscape, which is under ever greater pressure. Between changes of ownership and controversial relations between power and journalists, the independence of the local press is crumbling.


The latest scandal

2023 ended in Croatia with a political scandal. Yet another “afera” cost the conservative government of Andrej Plenković (HDZ) another minister, without however unseating the prime minister, who has been in power since 2016. The affair concerned precisely the relationship between power and the press.

Some wiretaps published by the weekly Nacional revealed that Jurica Lovrinčević, an advisor to the Minister of Economy Davor Filipović, offered public money to a local television with the promise of dividing part of the sum between some television presenters and Lovrinčević himself.

Following the revelations, an investigation was opened and Plenković fired both the advisor and minister Filipović. The scandal, which broke out in mid-December, monopolised the Croatian media for several days, but in the end the prime minister succeeded in yet another slalom and replaced the 30th minister in seven years   without striking a blow.

Sitting at a table in a bar in central Zagreb, Hrvoje Zovko shrugs. “There is nothing new in this scandal”, says the president of the Association of Croatian Journalists (HND). “What has emerged is worrying, but it has been the HDZ’s modus operandi for decades”, explains Zovko, according to whom “the Croatian media are being captured and with the election year approaching, there will be even greater pressure on the Croatian press”.

Croatia has just under four million inhabitants and has a varied media landscape, albeit weakened by the economic crisis. There are over 150 registered radio stations in the country and over 30 televisions, not to mention the dozens of newspapers printed at national and regional level and the many portals. However, editorial offices are often understaffed and overworked, and in this context public funding plays a decisive role.


A new relationship between power and the press

“We are not against public funding of the press and we do not want to deprive institutions, municipalities or regions of the right to advertise in the media, but we cannot continue like this. We need a public fund for journalism with clear rules and sanctions for those who do not respect the code of ethics. We must clearly separate advertising from journalism”, continues Hrvoje Zovko.

In 2022, the Association of Croatian Journalists created a transparent media financing model and is now presenting it to municipalities and regions with the hope that they will join the initiative. “Makarska and Split have already accepted, Zagreb and Pazin have adopted the model almost completely and now we are discussing with Karlovac, Virovitica, Slavonski Brod…”, concludes the HND president.

The new financing model should avoid the many small abuses that are regularly recorded in Croatia and which often do not get the visibility of the Lovrinčević case. For example, the mayor of Valpovo in Slavonia invented a newspaper distributed free of charge in every home and of which the mayor himself is the editor-in-chief and main protagonist of the articles.

A similar scenario occurred in Čađavica near Virovitica: here the mayor achieved the record of producing a 16-page newspaper with as many photos of himself. The incorrect use of advertising financed with public money often becomes an instrument of pressure by the authorities on the local press, whose survival is sometimes linked to these funds.
But the opposite also happens, that is, a local media asks the municipality for money to cover the local city council and otherwise deserts it. In any case, we end up with a weakened local press, not very independent and at the mercy of local power.


Media Solutions and the assault on the local press

But while experts from the Association of Croatian Journalists travel far and wide across the country to promote a more virtuous model of relations between local administrations and the press, power continues to grab the media at all levels.

The most striking case is that of Media Solutions, a company founded in 2017 in Osijek and which will soon control four important local newspapers: the Novi List in Rijeka, the Zadarski List in Zadar, the Glas Slavonije in Osijek and the Glas Istre in Pula. Chiara Bilić, a long-time journalist at Glas Istre and now employed at the new portal Istra24  , has written on several occasions about the background to this earthquake in the world of Croatian publishing.

The two co-owners of Media Solutions, writes Bilić, are Bojan Divjak – nephew of Vladimir Šeks, one of the founders of HDZ – and lawyer Oleg Uskoković, who in 2017 donated around 5,000 Euros to the electoral campaign of Damir Habijan, at the time HDZ mayoral candidate and the new Minister of Economy for a few days in place of Davor Filipović. According to Chiara Bilić, “the HDZ takes control of regional newspapers   through a venture by Šeks’ nephew and a generous donor of Damir Habijan’s”.

However, the ownership of Media Solutions is not the only problem in this matter. The entire operation that will lead to the merger of the Novi List and Glas Slavonije group is in fact unclear.

Drago Hedl was editor-in-chief at Glas Slavonije in 1991, when young Bojan Divjak joined the paper. “He was a good journalist at the time”, recalls Hedl, reached by phone while he drives through Slavonia. “I don’t know how his company managed to buy these newspapers”, continues the famous journalist. “After his experience at Glas Slavonije, Divjak worked at Slobodna Dalmacija and Vjesnik before it closed. He then ended up at Narodne Novine (the publisher of the Croatian Official Gazette) and then returned to Osijek as editor-in-chief and co-owner”, summarises Drago Hedl.

“Who owns the media is an often unclear question in Croatia”, says the journalist and writer. While Glas Slavonije, with an editorial team now counting “less than thirty journalists”, is often late in paying salaries (“minimum figures”, comments Hedl), a company born from nothing and without employees – Media Solutions – will soon control four outlets. “And it’s all happening right now, on the eve of the elections…”, mutters Drago Hedl at the wheel.

This content is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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Croatia: “Anti-leaks” legislation and new media law proposal spell…

Croatia: “Anti-leaks” legislation and new media law proposal spell trouble for journalists

The Croatian government is looking to criminalize unauthorized leaks of material from criminal proceedings. While the authorities insist that the new law will protect the presumption of innocence, media professionals and numerous law experts decry the proposal, warning it will silence journalists and their potential sources. The outcry over the “anti-leak” legislation comes shortly after the Culture and Media Ministry released a proposed draft of the new media law, which media associations labeled as “unprecedented state interference in journalistic freedoms”.

In February 2023, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković announced changes to the Criminal Code that would criminalize unauthorized disclosure of the content of investigative or evidentiary action. The declaration followed a highly mediatised leak of text messages from January 2023, which was used as evidence in an investigation launched by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, and ended up being somewhat embarrassing for Plenković. In the leaked correspondence, former EU Funds and Regional Development Minister Gabriela Žalac, caught up in a corruption probe over an allegedly inflated cost of software, makes a mention of a certain “A.P.”

Fast forward to September 2023. The law, dubbed ‘Lex A.P.’ in the media, after the initials of the Prime Minister, was submitted to a public consultation, and instantly alarmed journalists and law practitioners. “This law of silence that the government wants to pass is an attack on the journalistic profession and public interest,” said Hrvoje Zovko, the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND) in a phone interview with IPI.

The Prime Minister stated explicitly that the proposed changes to the law, which envisage punishment of up to three years in prison, would not target the media. However, “the proposed bill doesn’t include any protective clauses for journalists, and will dissuade potential sources from talking to them,” said Zovko. He stressed that this could make it possible to seize and search journalists’ communication tools – phones or laptops – in order to reveal the source of the leak. The Supreme Court judges also criticized the law proposal, stating that if no clause specifically stipulates the protection of journalists, the proposal leaves a possibility for them to be considered instigators or ‘guilty by association’.

The current Criminal Code already contains punishments for the violation of the confidentiality of proceedings (including evidentiary actions), as well as for the unauthorized disclosure of professional secrets, official secrets, and other secret information. This means, concretely, that a police officer can’t reveal that a defendant in a proceeding for drug trafficking is being secretly tapped, either to the defendant or to the media.

“If he did, he would be criminally liable”, explained Igor Martinović, associate professor at the Faculty of Law in Rijeka, Croatia. “But the proposed law changes would prohibit the public disclosure of any relevant information regarding the proceedings before the indictment is filed,” he told IPI in an email. “This would ban defendants from publically presenting their version of the story. If a victim, for example, submitted a video of the violence they suffered to the media, and if that video is also evidence in the proceedings, the victim would be liable for a criminal offense,” he added.

If the criminal proceedings were to start on the basis of the whistleblower’s report, the whistleblower would become a witness. Both the whistleblower and the journalist to whom he would pass on any information about the case would be in trouble. “It is difficult to predict what exactly would happen in that case, because the Act on the Protection of Whistleblowers provides for the protection of whistleblowers (…) but the atmosphere of fear would surely increase among potential whistleblowers and journalists,” believes Martinović. And while the new proposal states that the disclosure of information will be possible after the indictment becomes legally binding, that is a small comfort in a country where the judicial system is notoriously slow, and where corruption is still rampant (Croatia ranks 57th out of 180 countries on to the Transparency International 2022 corruption index).


New media bill on hold

At the same time, the media representatives are still waiting for updates on the new draft of the media law that the Croatian Journalist Association (HND) deemed “unacceptable”. The controversial draft suggested creating a registry (photo)journalists, with a special committee deciding on who would be approved as a (photo)journalist, and granting the right to publishers not to publish a journalistic piece without any explanation.

“This is a legalization of censorship,” said Zovko. “The draft also mentions that the journalists would be required to reveal their sources not only to their editor-in-chief but also to the publisher.” The current media law stipulates that journalists might need to reveal information on the source to the editor if the source is anonymous. Also, the courts might compel a journalist to reveal a source, if no alternative is available, to protect national security, territorial integrity, and public health.

The draft, penned by the Ministry of Culture and Media, seems to have been put on hold. “The HND sent their comments on the proposal at the end of July. We were told that the working groups would meet soon after, but nothing has moved forward since,” said Zovko.

When it comes to the “anti-leak” legislation it is yet to be debated in the Parliament. For both legislative changes, the stakes are especially high at the moment, Croatia is entering a ‘super election’ year in 2024. The country of just under four million people will vote at the European elections in June, at the parliamentary elections in August or early September, and at the presidential elections in December.

This article was commissioned by IPI as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Croatia: Journalist convicted of damaging judge’s reputation

Croatia: Journalist convicted of damaging judge’s reputation

On 2 February, the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) has voiced dismay after the Rijeka Municipal Court sentenced Novi list journalist Dražen Ciglenečki to a fine of 30 days’ income for statements made on former Zagreb County Court President and now High Criminal Court Judge Ivan Turudić in one of his columns. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its Croatian affiliate in condemning the continuous pressure on journalists and media freedom in the country through the use of criminal and civil laws.

The case dates back to 2014 when the journalist Dražen Ciglenečki published in the daily Novi list a column entitled “Turudić Does More Damage Than Šešelj”, in reference to Vojislav Šešelj, the ultranationalist leader in Serbia who was charged with war crimes. Ciglenečki argued that instead of passing parliamentary declarations against Šešelj, Members of Parliament would be better off taking positions against Judge Turudić.

At that time, judge Turudić filed a civil case for breach of honour against the journalist and his publisher. The Rijeka Municipal Court sentenced in March 2016 and May 2018 Ciglenečki and his editor to pay 20.000 euros in damages.

Last week, Dražen Ciglenečki was found guilty in a criminal case of damaging the reputation and honour of Ivan Turudić. The court ruled that the column “exceeds the limit of permissible value judgments and criticisms”. Judge Vera Marincel emphasized the journalists’ responsibilities when presenting the information. “Freedom of expression is not absolute, there are certain limits, and in this case, according to the court, they have been exceeded,” she said.

In his defense, Ciglenečki stated his intention was not to damage Turudić’s reputation but to express his opinion about a high-profile public figure. According to CJA’s board, the journalist’s column did not, in any way, compared the character and work of Ivan Turudić with Vojislav Šešelj.

If the verdict became final, the Croatian journalist would no longer be able to appeal and would be obliged to pay the costs of the criminal proceedings for a lump sum of 1.000 kunas. In addition, he would have to cover the costs and expenses of Turudić and his lawyer.

In a press release, CJA warned that any other mention of Vojislav Šešelj could also be punished: “We call on the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial Academy and the Ministry of Culture and MEDIA to initiate not only the necessary changes in the law to alter this unsustainable practice, but also to educate judges on freedom of speech and media-specific issues,” said Hrvoje Zovko, CJA President, reminding of the nearly thousand abusive lawsuits filed by politicians, businessmen, and judges against journalists and media outlets currently pending in Croatia.

According to the data from the Croatian Ministry of Justice and data from the annual CJA surveys, lawsuits are in most cases filed to intimidate journalists and the media in order to give up serious investigative stories. This is evident from the amounts of claims, by which prosecutors exert financial and psychological pressure on the media or journalists personally.

“What is particularly worrying is the fact that the plaintiffs are often high-ranking state officials and even judges. It is particularly problematic that plaintiffs can sue for the same text in criminal and civil proceedings – that is, they can seek both – damages and criminal liability. That is why CJA advocates for the decriminalization of all crimes against honour and reputation. We believe that civil law provides enough space for all those who consider themselves to be injured to obtain adequate satisfaction,” added CJA.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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EFJ Statement on Croatia: fact-checking portal threatened with…

EFJ Statement on Croatia after fact-checking portal got threatened with death and lawsuits

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates in Croatia and the SafeJournalists Network in condemning the threats received by the fact-checking portal and its employees, targeted by intimidations attempts since 10 December 2021.

The threats and lynching were prompted by entrepreneur Nenad Bakic, a businessman known for his inclination to sue the media. Bakic used his Facebook profile, which has over 40.000 followers, to threaten to launch a criminal lawsuit against the portal for allegedly censoring his post and comments of Faktograf’s social media pages. He then wrote that he would be interested in  “whether it would be legal to form a fund to finance such lawsuits” adding that in his opinion, “shouldn’t be very complicated.”

The Faktograf’s editorial team starting receiving insulting messages and death threats against their staff in the days following the above mentioned post’s publication. The messages were sent via Facebook or emails. In one email, it is written that someone is following journalists from Faktograf, that no one is untouchable and that a scenario similar to the one from two years ago – referring to the killing of two persons – could happened at the Faktograf publisher’s address. The threats were reported to the police.

The Faktograf also reported that on 14 December the website was under attack from DDos, a cyber-attack in the form of denial-of-service (denying access to the platform). “Starting on the evening of December 13th and continuing to 11am on December 14th, there were more that 27 million log-in attempts to [Faktograf]’s page in less than 13 hours. In this organized DDoS attack most of the log-in attempts were from Russia and Indonesia,” they said.

“Since February 2020 Faktograf has reported around 40 violent or death threats to the police. While Faktograf’s journalists are constantly exposed to online harassment (often gender specific threats or insults) we have published over 550 articles that challenge and debunk misinformation related to the pandemic in the same period,” said Ana Brakus, Faktograf’s director.

“The threats we receive will not prevent us in our work, nor will they scare us,” she added.

The European Federation of Journalists joined the President of the Croatian Journalists Association (HND) Hrvoje Zovko in calling on the Croatian authorities to condemn these threats in the strongest possible terms and to launch a prompt investigation into the case.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.


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 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 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 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 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 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)