After the Croatian government on Thursday gave a negative opinion of a report on the work of the Electronic Media Council and the Electronic Media Agency in 2014, proposing that the parliament replace all members of the Electronic Media Council over gross failures in the fulfilment of its legal obligations, the Electronic Media Council issued a statement.
It said that it had continually warned Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) about the need to start keeping separate accounting records of revenues and expenses related to its public and commercial activities.
In July 2012, HRT was requested to submit integral financial documentation for 2010 and 2011 so that the Electronic Media Council could comply with its obligation as defined by the HRT Act, the Council said.
The Council's report on its work in 2014 does not mention information on working meetings that were held with providers of media services, however, at its session on 28 January 2014 the Council concluded that before making a decision on its consent for the HRT Supervisory Board's decision on the amount of the monthly subscription fee for 2014, a meeting should be held with leading HRT officials so as to obtain additional information on the separation of its revenues in line with the HRT Act, the Council says.
In February 2014, a meeting was held, after which HRT on 3 April 2014 submitted a plan of action for the introduction of separate accounting records for public and commercial operations, the Council says.
Since it became clear from a statement by HRT in September 2015 that this obligation will not be introduced in 2016 either, but that its introduction had been moved to 1 January 2017, the Council asked the HRT Supervisory Board, in line with the HRT Act, that urgent action be taken with the aim of introducing separate account keeping, the Council says in its statement.
Based on the conclusion of a meeting held in January 2016, a task force was formed consisting of representatives of HRT and the Electronic Media Agency to tackle the problem, the Council says in the statement.
As for claims that Electronic Media Council member Gordana Simonovic is in conflict of interest, the Council says that in 2012 the parliament appointed Simonovic, at the government's proposal, as a member of the HINA Steering Board as a media expert, and that on 1 May 2013 she was appointed a member of the Electronic Media Council. On 16 December 2014, Simonovic was relieved of her duties as a member of the HINA Steering Board at her own request, the Electronic Media Council says, noting that under the Electronic Media Act the government invites applications for the appointment of members of the Electronic Media Council and proposes its appointment to the parliament.
The Electronic Media Council is not bound by any law to take any action regarding the appointment and/or dismissal of its members and that procedure is exclusively within the remit of the legislator - the Ministry of Culture, the government and the parliament, the Council says in the statement.
The chair of the parliament's Committee on the Media, Andrija Mikulic of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, said in parliament that the Council's work would be a separate item on the committee's agenda.
"I believe that if irregularities are identified in the Council's report, those responsible should be called to account," he said.
Committee member Goran Beus Richembergh of the opposition Croatian People's Party (HNS) said that he was not surprised "because pro-fascist demonstrations outside the Council and the Agency already heralded this."
"All places where decisions are made, notably those that manage funds - and let me recall that the Council makes decisions on operating licences for the electronic media and manages significant funds that are allocated to different electronic media outlets - are indeed first-class political spoils rather than realms of freedom as defined by the very mission of the Council and the Agency, which are regulatory bodies," said Richembergh.
"There is therefore no doubt that that paw will fall firmly on both the Council and the Agency. They will no longer dare think about working objectively and will allocate money to the media willing to report positively about the HDZ and the government, while we will be taken back in a time machine directly to the 1990s," said the HNS MP.