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news 24 Jul 14

‘Shame’ Crime Draws Protests From Croatian Journalists

Union says planned new crime code, which still defines shaming as an offence, will encourage self-censorship and curb free speech generally.

Sven Milekic

Croatia’s Journalists’ Association, HND, has slated the country’s proposed new criminal code, which still defines embarrassment, or shaming, [sramocenje] as a criminal offence.

The HND says that amendments in the new code regarding the act of embarrassment are purely “cosmetic”, and do not help journalists – the main category of people affected by the offence.

The HND says the existence of embarrassment as an offence suppresses journalistic freedoms and is undemocratic in its core.

The last version of the criminal code, passed in 2012, defines embarrassment under Article 148 of the code and prescribes substantial fines for “asserting or disseminating factual assertion which can damage someone’s honour and reputation”, through the press, radio, TV or the Internet.

Journalists say the article of the law complicates their work, as they could easily be penalized in theory under the broad definition of the offence.

Croatian officials for their part say they have listened to journalists’ concerns.

Presenting the new draft code on Wednesday, the Minister of Justice, Orsat Miljenic, said the planned changes resolved most of the outstanding issues concerning the act of embarrassment.

“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 explained.

However, he added that if information about people’s personal lives was being published purely to shame or embarrass them, such acts ought to be penalised.

Miljenic expressed doubt whether countries in which embarrassment was not an offence, such as Britain, or Serbia, had more journalistic freedom than Croatia.

“The new provision will help the defence of journalists and prevent any unjust convictions,” he concluded.

However, the vice-president of the HND, Slavica Lukic, told BIRN that media outlets remained far from satisfied.

Lukic said the “vague” definition of the offence in law “will confuse judges in the future”, so that it will still represent a major hazard for journalists.

“The government wants to leave the impression that they seek journalists’ opinion, yet they have managed to draft a law that is a step backwards compared to the criminal code passed by the [right-wing] Croatian Democratic Union government in 1996,” Lukic said.

The government “wants to protect itself, public officials and the financial and economic centre of power”, Lukic claimed.

While the Croatian Constitution defines free speech as a core value of the legal system and forbids censorship, Lukic maintained that the new code would promote “censorship, particularly self-censorship, because of the journalists’ fears of prosecution”.
Lukic was the first journalist in Croatia to be found guilt before a court of the act of embarrassment.

A Zagreb Municipal Court fined him 3,460 euro in April for reporting on the state’s financial support for a medical company, Medikol.

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