The incident of 31 March 2016 marks the third recent attack on Tomić. The first instance involved a bucket of faeces being dropped on his head as he was sitting at a cafe in Split, in February 2014, with the attacker making a remark related to his journalism. A year later, Tomić‘s effigy was burned during carnival in his hometown of Proložac. At the time he was working as a reporter for the "Slobodna Dalmacija" newspaper.
ECPMF’s partner organisation, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), reports that Tomić had been out with some friends in front of Split‘s Youth Building on 31 March after the Pričigin "Storytelling" Festival, when two youths approached and hit them.
"One [youth] tried to punch him in the head, but as he turned away his friend got the severe blow," the EFJ reported on 4 April. "He [the friend] was taken to hospital for medical help. Photojournalist Feđa Klarić took pictures of the attackers and reported that Tomić was called names such as 'Yugoslav shit'."
Ministry’s statement causes criticism
An official statement on the assault was released by Croatian authorities: "The Ministry of Culture condemns physical violence and attacks on all citizens. At the same time, this case reminds us about the importance of responsibility for words spoken and/or written in public."
The statement led the Croatian cultural civil society group Kulturnjaci 2016 to once again plead for the replacement of Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović; the group characterised the Ministry’s words as "an open, public call for the lynching of all those who think differently and criticise the new government [and] an open attack on freedom of speech", as described by the digital news portal "About Croatia" on 3 April.
Also media freedom organisations commented on the attack and its aftermath: The EFJ condemned the incident, urging politicians and public figures to do so as well. In the same announcement, the EFJ expressed disgust at the official statement the Culture Ministry issued.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced its dismay at the Culture Ministry's statement as well as concern with the current situation in Croatia, "where journalists are often the victims of harassment or violence, and where defamation, 'humiliating' comments, and insulting 'the Republic, its emblem, its anthem or its flag' are criminalized."
Croatian media under pressure
On 16 March, the Council of Europe had posted an alert from the EFJ and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on the Croatian government’s recent decision to end the mandate of Croatia’s regulatory Agency for the Electronic Media (AEM), which has been made a subordinate of the Culture Ministry.
Also in early March 2016, the government dissolved the Council for Electronic Media (CEM) and proposed the dismissal of Goran Radman, Director General of the Croatian Radio-Television (HRT). Since then, Radman and more than 15 other HRT employees have lost their jobs, including three editors.