Report: Only 24 out of 500 state-owned bodies provide information on ad spending

NEWS 18.05.2022 10:31
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The Electronic Media Council (VEM) has confirmed that following its request, only 24 of some 500 government bodies, public institutions and state-owned entities have submitted reports detailing their advertising spending in local media in 2021.

Public institutions and legal entities have until 31 March every year to report to VEM on their advertisements published in the previous year, and post the relevant information on their websites. The response by public institutions was relatively poor, with 24 reports having been submitted by 31 March, while one was submitted after that deadline.

Of the institutions that submitted their reports, many submitted incomplete reports.

VEM nevertheless says that it is worthwhile noting that reports were submitted by the FINA financial agency, Ministry of Culture and Media, Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, Croatian Employment Service, Agency for Vocational Education and Training, Agency for Medicinal Products and Medical Devices, and the Market Competition Agency.

Of the large public companies, reports were submitted, with subsequent numerous objections by the regulator, by Croatia Airlines, the forest management company Hrvatske Sume, Hrvatske Autoceste highway operator and the Croatian Lottery.

Reports were also submitted by the Vukovar Homeland War Memorial Centre, the national parks Paklenica, Risnjak and Krka, the State Archive in Pazin, and only one local government unit – the town of Ploce.

VEM says that the relatively small number of reports is due to the lack of fines for noncompliance with the recently adopted Electronic Media Act.

The Office of Information Ombudsman Zoran Piculjan notes that financial transparency and  publication of information on how public funds are spent is a standard of transparent conduct and the fight against corruption.

This is an obligation both for media publishers and for public institutions paying for their services, the ombudsman says, noting that noncompliance violates not only the Electronic Media Act but also the Right to Access Information Act as well as the Local Government Act and the Budget Act.

The legislative framework is clear and well designed, but additional education effort is needed to ensure compliance with the legal obligations, he says.

The Gong NGO notes that the lack of clear rules and supervision of their implementation could lead to advertising by government bodies, public institutions and state-owned legal entities becoming a powerful tool for favouring individual media outlets in the awarding of public funds, which is conducive to censorship and results in uncritical media willing to work in the interest of their clients.

Croatian Journalists Association (HND) head Hrvoje Zovko says the HND had been warning for years of the problem, as stated in its proposals for the current Electronic Media Act, which were rejected.

He says this concerns the legal provision under which government entities as well as legal entities whose majority owner is the state are obliged to spend 15 percent of their annual amount intended for the advertising of their services or activities on advertisements in audiovisual or radio programmes of regional and local television and/or radio stations.

“That means that ministries and public companies like the HEP power provider use budget and public money for advertising via local radio and TV stations, and those decisions are usually discretionary, made most often by a political leader without any public tender. To make things worse, the public has no information whatsoever on what the money is spent on,” Zovko adds, noting that public money should be directed to journalism in the public interest through transparent allocation mechanisms.

Public sector advertising should be called by its real name – public support, and should be developed accordingly, he says.

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