Belgian MEP and the leader of the liberal-centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, slammed on Wednesday the Croatian public broadcaster HRT for filing lawsuits against its own journalists and called on HRT to "stop pressuring their employees and the Croatian Journalists’ Association."
“Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of a free society. The latest pressure by Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) against their own journalists is unacceptable,” Verhofstadt wrote on his Twitter profile, adding that HRT must withdraw the lawsuits.
In December 2018, the head of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND), Hrvoje Zovko, who is also a journalist and editor at HRT, said that some journalists and HND members had received lawsuits from the state broadcaster demanding a total of 500,000 kuna (€67,300) in damages.
The HRT management sued HND for 200,000 kuna (€27,000) in damages and the head of the HND’s HRT branch, Sanja Mikleusevic-Pavic, for 50,000 kuna (€6,730) for “gross harm to reputation”, after the HND’s HRT branch had published a press release in September last year in which they distanced themselves from the broadcaster’s choice of projects and criticised the alleged lack of transparency in decision-making processes.
“We learn about everything that goes on in the company from the media… in all decision-making and editorial processes we are completely marginalised. We are responsible for working for a broadcaster which is criticised for eroding its own reputation, and which fails to fulfil its role as a public medium. This does not mean we support such a state – on the contrary. However, the public has no way of knowing that, since we are forbidden to speak out publicly,” the press release said.
Zovko had said that, in two other suits, the HRT claimed from him 250,000 kuna (€33,660) as compensation for the damage he had allegedly caused the HRT with his public statements after he had been fired from the broadcaster and later rehired only to be immediately suspended.
The HND had condemned the lawsuits, calling them “an unprecedented attack on the work and activity of the HND branch, and intimidation of journalists.”
HRT operates four television channels and a series of radio stations, and is financed primarily through compulsory licenses paid by households and companies owning TV sets or radios, which totals around 1.2 billion kuna (€161.5 million) per year. However, HRT viewership is falling behind the commercial national-level televisions, such as Nova TV or RTL.