Are the Croatian words “Smrt novinarima” (“Death to journalists”) going to become commonplace in Croatia? They were written on the outside of a news website’s offices in the coastal city of Zadar in late August. And the same words were painted near the Zagreb headquarters of the N1 TV channel and two websites, Net.hr and Telegram.hr, in March.
In Split, journalists were insulted and likened to “Novinari crvi” (“Earthworms”) on 8 September, while eggs were thrown at journalist Andrea Topić’s car shortly after its tyres were punctured.
These punitive messages have the same purpose – to attack, intimidate and smear journalists to the point of dissuading them from pursuing their mission to report the news.
Several police investigations have been opened with the aim of identifying those responsible for the anti-media graffiti but the Croatian authorities have remained astonishingly silent about them and other recent attacks on journalists.
Contrary to all expectations, the Croatian judicial authorities decided a year ago to take no action against the person who had posted death threats on the Facebook page of journalists with the widely respected news website Index.hr.
“The Croatian authorities must explicitly condemn such practices and end the unhealthy climate of impunity reigning in Croatia, which is a real danger for its journalists,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “Doing nothing is tantamount to giving a free rein to those who threaten the media.”
When Velimir Bujanec, a TV presenter sympathetic to the far right, physically attacked Croatian journalist Daniel Majić as he was covering a pilgrimage by Croatian nationalists and neo-Nazis to the Austrian border town of Bleiburg in May, there was no reaction from any Croatian officials, not even from President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.
And yet, when asked by Swiss TV broadcaster RTSin mid-July about the behaviour of police who were driving back migrants and asylum-seekers trying to cross into Croatia from Bosnia, the president triggered an outcry by urging Croatian journalists “not to follow foreign media working for I don’t know what interests” and instead “to present the Croatian version of events.”
Hrvoje Zovko, the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND), commented: “There are constant attacks against journalists from sectors ranging from the Catholic Church to politicians, and yet the government says nothing. It’s open season on journalists.”
Due to assume the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in less than four months, Croatia is ranked 64th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.