The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The criminal code sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months to five years imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction of internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years imprisonment.
In December two members of parliament reported receiving death threats after they criticized a moment of silence in the parliament that honored convicted war criminals in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) case of Prlic et al.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech applied to print and broadcast media. While many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference, observers cited lack of transparency in media ownership as a challenge to media and government accountability. In several cases information regarding the actual ownership of local media outlets was not publicly available. On July 14, the Parliamentary Information, IT, and Media Committee relieved four of the five members of Croatian Radio Television’s (HRT) Supervisory Board, after the board reported on numerous alleged irregularities and possible illegalities in the HRT’s management. The HRT branch of the Croatian Journalists Association (CJA) warned that removal of these board members would endanger the independence of one of HRT’s most important bodies and threaten HRT’s transformation into a responsible and credible public service.
Violence and Harassment: In January state prosecutors in Zlatar indicted Ivan Goluban for hate crimes and threats against Sasa Lekovic, president of the CJA. Police had arrested Goluban in November 2016 for threatening Lekovic.
In February the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) supported the CJA in denouncing an attack against freedom of speech and the rights of ethnic minorities by the NGO In the Name of the Family. On February 13, In the Name of the Family in a press conference called for a ban on state funding for Serb National Council weekly magazine Novosti and for criminal prosecution of Novosti journalists, editors, and publishers for “insulting the Republic of Croatia and spreading hatred and intolerance towards the majority of Croatian people.” The CJA and the EFJ called upon political leaders to condemn the attack.
On September 13, the CJA condemned a September 12 public burning of copies of Novosti by members of the far-right Autonomous Croatian Party of Rights (A-HSP) in front of the Serbian National Council headquarters, demanding the state cease cofinancing of Novosti. The CJA demanded Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic clearly condemn threats to Novosti and other journalists. On September 14, Prime Minister Plenkovic condemned the incident during a government session.
On May 12, the CJA condemned an attack against Mladen Mirkovic, a journalist at the Pozega-based web portal 034portal.hr, by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) mayor of Pozega, Vedran Neferovic. The CJA called upon police to investigate reports that Neferovic physically attacked Mirkovic and threatened to kill him and other journalists at the portal. Prime Minister Plenkovic condemned the attack and barred Neferovic from running in local elections as a member of the HDZ.
On October 16, the International Federation of Journalists and EFJ joined their affiliate, the CJA, in condemning the physical attack of Index.hr journalist Drago Miljus by members of the Split Police Department. Miljus was covering a crime scene when police beat him and threw his cell phone into the ocean. Following the incident the Split Police Department opened an investigation into the incident.
On December 10, Natasa Bozic Zaric, a journalist for N1 TV, reported receiving death threats after a televised discussion about the Prlic trial at the ICTY, during which Zaric asked a guest if military medals for Croatian generals convicted of war crimes should be revoked. Zaric reported the incident to police, but there were no arrests or charges brought as of year’s end.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: A number of journalists continued to report that publishers, media owners, and journalists frequently practiced self-censorship to avoid reporting negatively on advertisers or those politically linked to key advertisers. There were reports of self-censorship by journalists who feared losing their job for reporting on certain topics.
In February the CJA reported the Office of the President refused to answer questions submitted under the freedom of information law by journalists at Index.hr, claiming that the number of questions in the inquiry was excessive. In the same report, the CJA noted that the government did not hold regular press conferences and only half of all ministers had appointed a spokesperson.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to Eurostat, 74 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.