news 20 Mar 13

Croatia TV Punishes Staff Over Anti-Serb Rant

Croatian public broadcaster HRT replaced two editors and a presenter after Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said they allowed hate speech to be aired on prime-time news.


Boris Pavelic

Katja Kusec, presenter of the evening news show Dnevnik 3, and two of Dnevnik 3's editors, Ruzica Renic and Denis Latin, were replaced on Tuesday after airing inflammatory comments by Ruza Tomasic, an MP and head of the small far-right Croatian Party of Rights Ante Starcevic.

Tomasic told Saturday's edition of Dnevnik 3 on which she was a guest that "all who spit on Croatia should leave the country".

On the same show, Tomasic accused the president of Independent Democratic Serbian Party, the MP Vojislav Stanimirovic of having "picked the people who would be taken to Ovcara".

Tomasic thus suggested that Stanimirovic was partly responsible for the murder of more than 200 wounded people who were taken from Vukovar hospital and executed at Ovcara after Serbian forces took the besieged town on November 18, 1991 at the height of Croatia's independence war.

"He was with the Chetniks (Serbian paramilitaries). He fingerpointed who would be taken to Ovcara. He used to say that Vukovar is holy Serb land. He said that the last Ustasha (Croatian Fascist) stronghold fell when Vukovar hospital fell," Tomasic told Dnevnik 3.

Prime Minister Milanovic sharply criticised HRT on Monday, saying that the television station "gave an opportunity to someone who did more than hate speech - not interrupting her while she was comitting a criminal offence".

The prosecutor's office denied Tomasic's claims on Tuesday. In a communique, it said it had investigated claims that Stanimirovic was responsible for war crimes, but "didn't establish any foundations for suspicion of his criminal responsibility".

After Milanovic criticised HRT for allowing Tomasic to deliver a rant on Dnevnik 3, HRT condemned the Prime Minister's statements as "intolerable pressure on media independence".

Milanovic's office responded by claiming that "HRT obviously isn't capable of separating... the Prime Minister's appeal for media responsibility from intolerable pressure on media".

In spite of slating the Prime Minister's remarks, on Tuesday HRT replaced the presenter and two editors of Dnevnik 3.

HRT has not officially explained the replacements, saying only that "HRT wouldn't discuss them in other media, but only internally".

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic has expressed concern over the treatment of three journalists at Croatian Radio Television’s, HRT, news programme following criticism from the country’s Prime Minister.

“I am concerned by the circumstances under which these journalists have been relieved of their positions within HRT,” Mijatovic said.

“This action can undermine media freedom in the country, of which the public service broadcaster should be a cornerstone.”

“I urge the Croatian Radio Television’s management to ensure that professional standards are upheld and that the rights of Denis Latin, Katja Kusec and Ruzica Renic, are protected. I also call on the government and the HRT management to refrain any action that could lead to censorship and threaten editorial independence.”

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