Two non-governmental organisations held a protest on Monday morning in front of the HINA news agency offices, protesting against the sacking of reporter and former HINA director Smiljanka Skugor Hrncevic.
The Veronika Vera organisation for the protection of victims of the justice system and the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts in Diaspora (HAZUD) organised the protest and called for the urgent withdrawal of Skugor Hrncevic's dismissal notice and the resignation of HINA's Steering Board, director and editor-in chief.
Skugor Hrncevic's employment contract was terminated because she had forwarded a working version of another reporter's exclusive article about debts to the Croatian Health Insurance Fund (HZZO) of a company formerly owned by the spouse of senior Social Democratic Party member Mirando Mrsic. Skugor Hrncevic forwarded the text to a political party. Later the text appeared on two media web portals accompanied by an article alleging that there was censorship in HINA.
Skugor Hrncevic took part in the rally with about thirty protesters, saying that the said news story was kept unpublished on the news desk two days prior to the parliamentary election, without any explanation by HINA's editorship as to why that was so, even though it contained all the relevant information. She underscored that the text remained there from 7 September and was only released eight days after the election.
She added that as a HINA reporter she was assigned to monitor the campaign of the Croatian Christian Democratic Union (HKDU) led by Marko Veselica and that the party's platform included demands for a law on whistle-blowers and that that was why she sent the text to that party.
Skugor Hrncevic claims that she did not send the text to the media web portals which later released the draft text.
"I don't feel guilty at all," she said.
Her legal counsel Josko Biliskov called on HINA's management, in light of the fact that legal deadlines have not expired, to re-examine its decision on Skugor Hrncevic's employment termination.
HINA director Branka Valentic and editor-in-chief Serdjo Obratov on Monday refuted the allegations of censorship in HINA, claiming that Skugor Hrncevic's dismissal had nothing to do with whistle-blowing as she has portrayed the situation, but that this was a case of "non-professionalism and a gross violation of her employment contract." They underscored that the same step would have been taken in the case of any other HINA employee.
They added that it was particularly disturbing that although they had both made their statements to various bodies and media outlets, an enormous amount of misinformation continued to circulate through the media creating the notion that Skugor Hrncevic had been discriminated against and that she was dismissed because she had disclosed censorship, which, they said, was a blatant lie and flagrant manipulation of facts.
Valentic underscored that Skugor Hrncevic had abused the authority entrusted to her by forwarding a draft text prepared by a fellow reporter to a political party, doing so without anyone's knowledge or approval and commenting that HINA did not wish to release the article and that the the party could use it for its election campaign.
Obratov rejected claims of pressure on the autonomy of editorship from within or outside HINA.
He considers it to be absurd that HINA or he, as the editor-in-chief, could be accused of censorship considering that it was HINA that uncovered this case in public.