Croatian journalists protest against mounting number of lawsuits

Hundreds of journalists are protesting in Zagreb against more than 1,100 lawsuits which have been filed against them, in what they say it is an attempt to undermine the freedom of the press.

The protest was organised by the Croatian Journalist Association (HND) after Croatia’s public broadcaster, HRT, filed lawsuits against its own and other journalists, seeking total damages of around 300,000 euros.

“You took over media, we won’t give up journalism,” was the primary message of the demonstrators.

“We have had enough of persecution of journalists, it has gone on for decades,” said Hrvoje Zovko, president of the HND and a former journalist and editor at HRT. “The government is behaving ignorantly and destroying journalism. We live in a country where one can be condemned for publishing true information.”

The majority of lawsuits has been filed by politicians and other public figures. Most of the time they claim compensation for non-material damages such as mental anguish or tarnished reputation.

According to Mr Zovko, the introduction of the offence of shaming in January 2013 has been widely abused, as there is no clear definition of what mental anguish is.

In January both the International and the European Federation of Journalists called on HRT management to drop the lawsuits against the HND and the other journalists.

At the same time, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković dismissed the accusations, recalling that the country has been upgraded to partly free by the Freedom House. He said that all the problems started when Zovko almost physically attacked the editor of the Croatian Television news department, Katarina Periša Čakarun, and sued other reporters.

“Reducing the many problems that concern the erosion and destruction of journalism to the case of Hrvoje Zovko, while also distorting the facts concerning the circumstances of Zovko’s resignation as an HRT editor, is unworthy of a prime minister,” the HND Executive Board said in a statement.

“Media and journalistic freedoms are endangered, and he does not see it. He lives in his own world in which he does not see the problems that are happening around him, what all journalists and the international public see,” Zovko added.