Before the 13-member parliamentary committee on informatisation and media concluded on Friday that Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic adopted a decision on dissolving the commission for non-profit media in accordance with his powers and in line with the law, a heated debate was held by MPs on this issue, with Opposition MPs severely criticising the minister.
This conclusion, supported by seven MPs, while four deputies voted against and two abstained, was adopted after Minister Hasanbegovic acquainted the committee of his arguments.
During the debate, a Social Democrat MP said the minister's decision was "terrifying" .
One of the SDP MPs wondered why the minister "cleaned" the commission before outlining in the public his programme or a media strategy.
A parliamentary deputy of the Croatian People's Party (HNS), Goran Beus Richembergh, also raised the issue about the Croatian national news agency Hina, saying that he hoped that the authorities would not replace the Hina leadership "after that news agency was bailed out in the nick of time", and was now in the black after having had losses.
During the debate, deputies from the parliamentary majority stood in defence of the minister.
The committee chairman, Andrija Mikulic of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), said that the dissolution of the commission was in compliance with the law.
The commission had allocated 88% of the funds designated to non-profit media to 12% of all nonprofit media outlets. For instance, commission member Suzana Kunac voted for the allocation of HRK 70,000 to the web portal for which she worked, Mikulic said.
HDZ MP Jasen Mikulic dismissed accusations from the Opposition, explaining that new models for funding media could be considered.
A few days ago the new minister handed out to reporters materials showing how 8.8 million kuna (EUR 1.15 million), intended for non-profit media had been allocated by the Culture Ministry in the last three years. According to the materials, 28 non-profit media outlets had been given grants in the last three years, and the biggest sum, of 900,000 kuna, was given to the portals Forum.tm and H-Alter and the TV station "Treci Sektor" each.
A total of HRK 700,000 kuna was earmarked for both Lupiga.com and the portal Kulturpunkt.Hr, while VoxFeminae.net received HRK 540,000 kuna and Crol.hr HRK 420,000. Furthermore, Radio Student was given HRK 360,000, In-Portal 350,000, and the Neovisni Novinarski Portal – Tris. Com 340,000 kuna, the Cenzura TV show received HRK 335,000 kuna, etc. Also, HRK 70,000 was allocated to Slobodni Filozofski, Fairpress.eu, Radio Attack, Romi, Gong, Pogledaj.to, the newspaper "Prosvjeta" and to Autograf each.
The minister's decision to dissolve the above-mentioned commission has angered a part of non-profit media, including some of the above-mentioned recipients. For instance, the E-net media network, which comprises Lupiga, Forum.tm, Tris, CroL, Slodobni Filozofski, Zarez, Radio 808, Radio Student and Nepokoreni Grad, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, calling for the immediate replacement of Minister Hasanbegovic over his "brutal attack on media freedoms."
Presenting his arguments to the media committee today, Minister Hasanbegovic said that the issue stemmed from "the so-called media culture policy" of former Culture Minister Andrea Zlatar Violic of the Croatian People's Party (HNS), who served in the government of Social Democrat (SDP) leader Zoran Milanovic from late December 2011 to late March 2015.
Hasanbegovic recalled that in early 2013, an office for media was established within the Culture Ministry with the purpose of elaborating a national media policy and creating legislative and financial prerequisites for "a pluralistic media scene", however, all that remained "at the level of lifeless theoretical studies."
An invitation was published for existing non-profit media and those that were yet to be established to apply for non-repayable funds and three tenders were conducted for the allotment of lottery funds, directed to the Ministry from the National Foundation for the Development of Civil Society in the amount of 3 million kuna per each tender, the new minister said while explaining his decision to the media committee.
The entire case was surrounded by many controversies and frequent accusations of conflict of interest regarding the commission's members, as well as accusations about nepotism, unclear criteria and ideological narrow-mindedness and public rows, Hasanbegovic said, citing the example of the case of the Autograf portal.
The purpose of the entire project was missed, as it supported ideological platforms of a certain way of thinking, which negates media pluralism, he said.
During today's discussion, it was also said that a total of HRK 527,000 was paid as remuneration to the commission members in the last three years.
(EUR 1 = HRK 7.6)