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News 19 Jul 16

Croatia Govt Accused of Manipulating Broadcaster

Croatia's government parties plan to prolong the mandate of the acting head of the Croatian Radio-Television, HRT, in order to use the broadcaster for the election campaign, critics say.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Sinisa Kovacic, acting HRT head. Photo: Facebook

Croatia's now "technical" government, which fell in July, plans to use the country's public broadcaster for election purposes, media observers told BIRN.

With early elections scheduled for September 11, the government on Friday opened a ten-day-consulting process on a decree to amend the law on the Croatian Radio-Television, HRT.

The change will allow the acting head of HRT to stay on for a year, instead of six months, which is the timeframe stipulated under the existing law.

While still in power in March, the centre-right government dominated by the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, removed former HRT head Goran Radman and made Sinisa Kovacic acting head, until a new head is named.

One tender for the post was annulled and the current one will also most likely be annulled by HRT’s supervisory board, since the parliament was dissolved last Friday and the parliamentary committee for media that has to evaluate the candidates has not been formed.

The government says it has to amend the law, to keep on the acting head, as continuity is necessary for the broadcaster to function normally.

The government also claims that the law permits it to pass decrees that are of equal force to laws if parliament is not in session.

However, the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, HND, Sasa Lekovic, told BIRN that, according to their legal experts, the legal issues are “not so crystal clear” as the government suggests.

“It is improper and immoral for the government to do something like this, under the pretext that it wants to help [HRT], because we all know about the damage caused by the acting head and his team,” he said.

The government - in which controversial Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic dealt with the media - was accused of conducting political purges in HRT under Kovacic's auspices.

Sackings, staff changes and the scrapping of shows drew scrutiny from journalists, as well as from some EU diplomats and international bodies.

Lekovic explained that under the current laws, a technical management for HRT should be named until a new head is appointed. The president of HRT’s supervisory board, Senol Selimovic, made this same point on Friday.

“This move is clear political manipulation - and if the acting head is kept on, he will continue to do damage to the media,” Lekovic concluded.

Political analyst Zarko Puhovski told BIRN that by apparently trying to use HRT for the purpose of the upcoming election campaign, the government parties had shown their “misunderstanding of the media [today].

“In the 1990s, the TV was the only way of informing people, besides a few newspapers, and there were no other TV stations and no news portals," he said.

"What the government doesn’t understand is that nowadays the value of HRT is so small that it is not worth fighting over it,” he added.

Puhovski said Croatia's "technical" Prime Minister, Tihomir Oreskovic, had again shown his “political disorientation”, in making a move to help the same party - the HDZ - that brought down his government.

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