Journalists critical of Croatia's 'shaming' law

13/08/2014

Advocates say the proposal would weaken media freedom in the nation.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 13/08/14

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Journalists in Croatia say a change to the 2012 criminal code will make it harder for them to do their work. [AFP]

A proposed law in Croatia that defines embarrassment, or "shaming" as a criminal offence is being criticised by journalists and media freedom advocates.

The proposed change would amend the 2012 criminal code that prescribes substantial fines for "asserting or disseminating factual assertion that can damage someone's honour and reputation," through the press, radio, TV or the Internet.

Journalists said changing the law will complicate the criminal code and make it harder for them to do their work.

"This term exists in the law since 2011 but is completely unclearly determined," Boris Pavelic, a journalist at daily newspaper Novi List, told SETimes. "Now the government is trying to clarify this, but without success. This now means that the judge will decide what the public interest is. I believe that this paragraph in the law is completely repressive towards journalists and unnecessary. It is a continuation of the repressive climate of the media in Croatia, which, independently of any government, is constant from the beginning of the '90s. It is shameful for a social democratic government that doesn't want to throw out this paragraph from the criminal code -- insult and libel are more than adequate."

Natasha Srdoc, president of the Adriatic Institute for Public Policy, told SETimes that she is opposed to the change.

"The Croatian public needs to know the truth. The law should be changed in a way that a plaintiff, such as a public official, who raises a defamation claim, has to prove that the statements raised by a journalist and media outlet are not true, except in the cases of patently false statements. Journalists and media have an extremely important role of revealing the cases of abuse of office and unexplained wealth, amassed by corrupt politicians, officials, and their partners in crime, that Croatia's politically influenced judiciary has not been able to deal with," she said.

Croatian officials said they have taken the concerns of journalists into account. When presenting the new draft code on July 26th, justice minister Orsat Miljenic said the planned changes resolved most of the outstanding issues concerning the act of embarrassment.

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"If a person can prove the truth of his claim, or the existence of reasonable cause for publishing this information, this person will not be penalised," the minister said.

The Croatian Journalists Association is asking the government to delete the ''shaming'' provision of the law.

"The proposal of our association is a complete decriminalisation of offences against honour and reputation. This decriminalisation was conducted not only in the UK but also in BiH, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. Changes to the criminal code that authorities proposed amendment will continue to protect the powerful officials at the expense of media, journalistic freedom and at the expense of the quality of journalistic work that are essential for democracy of any country," Zdenko Duka, president of the association, told SETimes.

Do you support Croatia's law that would attempt to criminalise embarrassment and shaming? Add your thoughts in the comment area below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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