Croatia: Petition aims to close down Serb minority publication

by Jane Whyatt

A right-wing group called “In the Name of the Family (INF)” has started a petition aiming to close down Novosti, a weekly magazine in Croatia. Novosti receives a state subsidy to serve the Serbian ethnic minority, but is widely read by all sections of society.

Novosti 900X600 Screenshot from the Novosti website shows some of their cover stories.

The petition claims Novosti "is spreading hate speech against the Croatian majority" and should therefore no longer be supported with public funds from the Council on National Minorities. INF even demands that the 32 million kune (4.3 million euros) granted to the newspaper be paid back to the public purse.

The newspaper’s editor, Nikola Bajto, is calling for solidarity from media freedom campaigners. He says the INF have not only started a petition but also flooded the office of the Council on National Minorities with automatic emails condemning Novosti. Adds Bajto:

These actions constitute a dangerous and orchestrated campaign of nationalism and xenophobia aimed at marking the journalists of Novosti as enemies of the state and national traitors."

What’s more, his statement accuses INF of creating a homophobic atmosphere that led to a recent teargas attack at the Super Super LGBT nightclub in Zagreb and the resulting demonstrations in support of gay rights.

Earlier, in 2013, INF had created a petition against same-sex marriage that led to a national referendum in which 66% of those taking part voted against legalisation.

Deterioration of media freedom in Croatia Deterioration of media freedom in Croatia

Democratic values

Saša Leković, president of the Croatian journalists’ trade union CJA, sees the petition as another attempt to restrict the plurality of media in the Balkan country.

"In the Name of the Family, like anybody else, has the right to ask whatever they want, including banning of financial support coming from the state budget to any media. But it has no right to offend and to instigate," says Leković. "CJA understands this attack against Novosti Weekly as part of an orchestrated hunt against 'unsuitable' nonprofit and other media as well as against civil society associations. And that we find to be very dangerous regarding democratic values."

ECPMF Chair Henrik Kaufholz calls on the international community to protest:

Any attempt to close down an ethnic minority publicaton must be seen as an attack on media freedom and plurality of views."

Free speech

The response from the Council on National Minorities has been an open letter to "In the Name of the Family". The letter points out that over the past twelve years, the council has received no complaints from the government or independent auditors about the way it spends money to support minority media.

It says that banning Novosti would "stir criticism for reduction of free speech and of freedom of expression of the most numerous ethnic minority."

Adding his voice to the protests, Oliver Vujovic of the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) comments:

"Different, critical and provocative views are freedom of speech, as are also ironic and cynical articles, and I think that also members of this NGO should understand this“"

SEEMO led the 2016 media freedom fact-finding mission to Croatia, which also involved the ECPMF, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF), and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). During the mission to Zagreb, the fact-finders met Croatia’s Minister for culture and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. She stressed that she was committed to press freedom but concerned about hate speech in the media.  

Statement from the South East European Media Observatory

"Novosti, a weekly magazine published by the Serb National Council in Croatia, is a positive example of a minority media outlet following and discussing social and political issues relevant to the country as a whole, while representing the overall situation and developments in a minority community. In this way, it contributes to the understanding of how mutual these relations and developments truly are. By combining these aspects in its content, Novosti promotes, among its wider readership, interest in topics characteristic of the life of the Serbian community in Croatia, and simultaneously enables members of said community to gain a comprehensive view of Croatian society and politics, a view beyond the range of special interest and minority topics."

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