Croatia wants to bring its press law into line with those of the European Union and the Council of Europe, but political parties still have some influence over the state-run broadcasting body, HRT, which is to become an independent public service. Its split into separate radio and TV units was not done by the 1 July 2002 deadline and the third state TV channel was not privatised as planned. Legal and economic obstacles prevent the growth of privately-owned stations while HRT retains its nationwide monopoly.
The government sent a broadcasting bill to parliament on 5 December, changing the way the head of HRT is appointed and having its governing board elected by parliament after a call for candidates. It would have 11 members (trade unionists and religious, cultural and sporting figures) and MPs would be barred from it. It would appoint the director-general and the heads of the radio, TV and music departments.
A planned reform of the criminal code would introduce the offence of insulting the president, to be punished by between three months and three years in prison. The reform would go against the principle of the presumption of innocence because it would put the burden on the journalist or media outlet to prove good faith or the accuracy of what was said. At present, defamation in the media is only punishable by a fine or a maximum one year in prison.
Pressure and obstruction
Journalist Denis Latin was threatened with prosecution after the broadcast of HRT TV’s "Latinica" programme on 28 January 2002, in which he criticised the former chief public prosecutor, Radovan Ortinsky, thus violating a ban on outside comment during a trial. After international protests, the matter was dropped.
The 18 February edition of "Latinica," about controversy over whether to ban Nazi symbols, was cancelled by its chief editor, Jasna Ulaga-Valic, a few hours before it was due to go out. She said there was a risk of prosecution for accusations it included that the former regime of President Franjo Tudjman had tolerated fascism.
The bank account of the satirical weekly Feral Tribune was frozen on 1 March as a result of fines totally 200,000 kuna (27,183 euros) imposed by the Zagreb regional court for "cosmopolitan opinions" and "moral harm." The first offence arose from a 1993 article by the weekly’s editor, Viktor Ivancic, criticising anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist remarks by Zeljko Olujic, a lawyer who was close to Tudjman. This was deemed to be "expressing cosmopolitan opinions" and the weekly was ordered to pay damages to Olujic.
The second offence was related to a 1995 article by art historian Zvonko Makovic criticising incompetent management of the Ivan Mestrovic Foundation by sculptor Mestrovic’s daughter Marica. The two verdicts were delivered in October 2001. On 9 March 2002, President Stipe Mesic expressed support for Feral Tribune by attending a book sale to raise funds for it.
Members of the Association of Veterans and Wounded of the Patriotic War (HVIDRA) prevented the publication on 7 September of the thrice-weekly local paper Osjecki Dom, in the eastern town of Osijek. They occupied the printing works the day before to stop appearance of an article with the names of all the war veterans, their degree of invalidity and how much money each got from the state. The paper did not appear again until 9 September.
Ivo Pukanic, former editor of the weekly Nacional, was given a suspended prison sentence of two months and a year’s probation on 23 December for verbally threatening Tudjman’s former political adviser, Ivic Pasalic, during a case Pasalic brought against the weekly in 2001. The paper was also banned from publishing any criticism of Pasalic in the year following the sentence.