The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) has said that the government's decision to propose that the parliament should not endorse a report on the work of the Electronic Media Agency in 2014 and replace all members of the Electronic Media Council is a new step towards seizing full political control of the media.
In a statement released on Thursday evening and signed by its president Sasa Lekovic, the HND says that the government's decision, because of the fact that it was adopted and because of its content, is yet one more move proving that the government is not treating the media as one of the foundations of democracy but rather as spoils.
It recalls the recent dissolution of the commission for the non-profit media, which it says was aimed at undermining those media, followed by the parliament's decision not to endorse a report on the work of Croatian Radio and Television and its Programming Council, the purpose of which it says was to appoint as acting HRT director-general a person whom the HND accuses of "having publicly demonstrated that he sees journalism as service to the election winners."
The HND believes that the government's decision not to adopt the report on the work of the Electronic Media Council in 2014 over "a bizarre reason" and the consequent "toppling" of its director and Electronic Media Council chair Mirjana Rakic, as well as the replacement of all Council members, is a new attack on media autonomy.
It also notes that the budget proposal for 2016 provides additional evidence of the government's plan to restrict media pluralism, with 3.2 million kuna allocated to non-profit media through the Culture Ministry so far having been reduced to only 623,000. The work of the Electronic Media Agency will be financed in the future through the Culture Ministry. Until now the Agency did not depend on budget funding but was, as an independent regulator, financed with money paid directly by publishers/broadcasters, which enabled, among other things, the functioning of the Fund for Pluralism, the HND explained.
"The decision to finance the Electronic Media Agency with budget funds was made, as we are now discovering, by the previous, caretaker (SDP-led) government. By doing so, just as by amending the Act on Croatian Radio and Television, which enabled the parliament to elect the HRT director-general by a simple majority, the previous government enabled the political 'occupation' of the public media service and abolishing of the autonomy of the electronic media regulator, which the new government has been using to the maximum," the HND said, describing this as dangerous for media freedom and democracy in the country.