The termination of a Culture Ministry grant programme for non-profit media, which over the past three years has strengthened the third media sector, has left 280 journalists without any income on the last day of September, the Croatian Journalists Association (HND) said in a statement on Saturday, urging the next culture minister to find solutions to "burning problems in the media field."
The future of 20 non-profit media outlets, which employed 30 journalists on a permanent basis and 250 external contractors, is uncertain, the HND says in the statement, noting that this is a result of the political work of outgoing Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic.
In January 2016, Hasanbegovic terminated the programme that helped co-fund non-profit media, dissolved an expert commission in charge of awarding grants and stopped a programme for support to community media for which the ministry had secured, in the term of the previous (Social Democratic Party-led) government, 30.6 million euros from the European Social Fund, says the HND.
Despite frequent claims that taxpayers' money was being spent on those media outlets, the work of non-profit media was financed with slightly less than three million kuna from the Croatian Lottery's games of chance, which is not money from the state budget, the HND says, adding that the modest funding was sufficient for individual web portals to employ an average of one journalist with a net monthly salary of HRK 4,000, with payments to external contractors often amounting to a few hundred kuna monthly.
The HND underlines the importance of non-profit media for dealing with socially relevant topics in which commercial media are rarely interested and recalls that during a recent visit to Croatia, a joint delegation of the European Federation of Journalists and other journalists associations commended that model of financing non-profit media as one of the few positive events in the Croatian media.
"We consider the way Zlatko Hasanbegovic led the Culture Ministry, notably with regard to media, as a serious threat to democracy and pluralism. A huge step backward was taken with regard to media freedoms and freedom of expression, while at the same time revisionism was encouraged, contributing to the promotion of undemocratic and totalitarian ideas," the HND says.
It adds that it expects the next prime minister-designate to carefully choose the person to head the Culture Ministry next and asks the next minister to urgently start dealing with burning problems in the field of media as well as open dialogue with the HND and media representatives with the aim of adopting a media strategy that would be in line with the best of democratic practices and contain a solution for the systematic financing of the third media sector.