While the media scene has become diverse and dynamic, the government is failing to protect journalists against legal attempts to muzzle them, and against organized crime. The government itself represents a threat to press freedom.
Croatia, with a population of less than four million, enjoys a modestly sized but diverse media sector. A half-dozen national newspapers appear each day, but their ownership is concentrated. Two media companies, Styria and Hanza Media, control three-quarters of the market. The two major private television networks, Nova TVZ and RTL, provide national coverage, competing with the publicly owned HTV, while most radio stations have only local presence.
Working as a journalist in Croatia can be hazardous. Reporters investigating corruption, organised crime, and war crimes, especially at the local level, are often hit by harassment campaigns, while physical assaults, threats, and cyber-violence represent a major problem. Authorities remain silent. Government interference in the management of HTV persists.
Defamation is a criminal offence in Croatia, and regularly invoked by politicians and business people to discourage journalists’ questions about their activities. In addition, insulting “the Republic, its emblem, its national anthem or its flag” is punishable by up to three years in prison. Even more serious, comments deemed “humiliating” are criminalised. Gag-order lawsuits (SLAPPs) remain a scourge, with nearly one thousand legal actions against journalists or media organisations underway.
The Covid-19 pandemic has deepened the financial crisis that was already impacting Croatian media, leading to further lowering of editorial salaries. As the result of a 2016 government action, non-profit media have lost some of their financing. In an attempt to deal with financial problems, big newspapers have increasingly agreed to partner with the government in holding events, which raises questions about media independence.
Crimes committed by Croat forces during the 1991-1995 war of independence remain an off-limit subject. Journalists who deal with the issue may be targeted in harassment campaigns. Nationalist movements, and those close to the Catholic Church, are often the source of these attacks. Reporters who probe corruption cases, especially at the local level, endure attacks from organised-crime gangs.
No journalists have been killed since 2008, but physical assaults and intimidation of journalists occur every year, especially in the course of demonstrations.