The country applied to join the European Union in February 2003 and hopes to be admitted in 2007. In preparation, the government has made important but often controversial legal changes concerning the media.
A proposal in July 2003 for fines or up to a year in prison for defamation through the media set off an uproar. An early version had called for three years in prison for damaging the reputation of the president and for insulting or criticising the work of a judge or prosecutor, as well as up to a year in jail for journalists who commented on a trial while it was still going on. Strong national and international reaction forced the government to drop the measure.
Article 203 of the criminal code, which barred prosecution of journalists if they showed themselves to be of good faith and without intention to defame, was amended however on 9 July to delete the element of intent, leaving only the truth or otherwise of the report as the only consideration and making it much harder to defend journalists in court.
The amendment was struck down on 27 November by the constitutional court, which pointed out that measures involving human rights had to be passed by an absolute majority, which was not done in this case. So the law on defamation remained unchanged and still not in line with international standards.
A press law passed in October guaranteed press freedom and journalists’ rights but further restricted access to public data and reduced the protection of journalistic sources.
A law changing the composition and way of appointing the board of the state-run radio and TV (HRT) was passed in February. Parliament’s information committee will choose, in consultation with political parties, from candidates proposed by trade unions, churches, NGOs and cultural organisations. Parliament would not elect the 11-member board until after political negotiations, which carried the risk of hidden elements.
An electronic media law was passed in July, setting up a council of seven members, appointed by parliament and proposed by the government, to assign broadcasting frequencies and also funding to promote diversity.
Harassment and obstruction
Ninoslav Pavic, head and co-owner of the country’s biggest media group, Europa Press Holding (EPH), in turn owned by the German Westdeutsher Allgemeine Zeitung group, was targeted by a bomb that went off under his car as it was parked outside his Zagreb home on the night of 28 February 2003. Nobody was hurt but there was a lot of damage. Police gave him protection but did not find any motive or culprits. The daily paper Jutarnji list and the weekly Globus, both owned by EPH, regularly report on organised crime.
Ivo Pukanic, editor of the weekly Nacional, was questioned by police on 3 October about an interview in the paper in June with Gen. Ante Gotovina, on the run for two years from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Pukanic refused to say where the interview took place but said it was not in Croatia, contrary to the claim of ICC chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who flew to Zagreb three days later to urge the government to make every effort to find and extradite Gotovina.