A short glance at media practices shows that the idea of self-regulation is either a naïve vision of media systems, or a way to discursively obfuscate real power relations
Self-regulation vs. power relations in media
Designing a proper framework for the independent functioning of media is a major concern in western democracies. 'Independence’ is defined as protection from government interference, while free market competition is viewed as a way to enhance pluralism and diversity. In the attempt to implement these values, there is a constant debate about how to find the optimal level between state regulations and deregulation that is more favourable for market players. In order to ensure a balance between free market and competition and state intervention, the media are expected to develop self-regulatory mechanisms to shake off pressures and influences from powerful interest groups. Self-regulation is supposed to ensure responsible and professional journalist practices, as well as the commitment of the media to serve the public interest. This implies that media professionals should define editorial guidelines and ensure an open communication channel between the media and the public. However, this way of looking at self-regulation ignores vertical hierarchies that exist within the media (visible in the different positions and goals of media proprietors, editors and journalists), and it implies that all media, regardless of ownership structure have the same goal –to be responsible and to serve the public interest. A short glance at media practices shows that the idea of self-regulation is either a naïve vision of media systems, or a way to discursively obfuscate real power relations. 
The regulation of self-regulation
The Media Act  (2004), which sees self-regulation as the establishment of professional and other rules of conduct and regulation of relations in the media sector, “independently defined by publishers, journalists and their associations’ (Article 2), specifically mentions the media statute as a tool for self-regulatory practice. The Statute is devoted a separate article (Article 24) in the Media Act. It defines the relations between a media owner, editor in chief and journalists. Specifically, it defines the participation of journalists in the appointment and dismissal of editors in chief, freedom and accountability of journalists, and the procedure and conditions under which editors and journalists exercise their rights in the case of a change in the ownership or management structure that results in considerable alterations in the program orientation of the media. The Statute needs to be approved by the majority of the total number of journalists within the first six months of the media operation. If this is not the case, the Statute will be defined through an arbitration procedure requested by a journalists’ representative. 
For years, the majority of media outlets in Croatia ignored the legal provisions related to the media statute. They seemed as if they were only declaratively introduced, without the intention of the relevant bodies to actually set them through in practice. The absence of statutes was never penalized by the regulators, nor was it monitored. The situation changed in 2013, owing to a stick-and-carrot method. 
The decisions that lowering of VAT from ten percent to five would apply only to daily newspapers that had a statute and that electronic media could apply to the Fund for Pluralism only if they had a statute, prompted many media organizations to create their statutes. 
However, journalists did not benefit much from the creation of Statutes, even though they are formally there. A journalist that previously worked in a top circulated commercial daily describes the way the statute was adopted in this media organization in the following way: “The majority voted for it (…) it passed, and the formal conditions were fulfilled. Nobody still knows what is written in the Statute, nor if it will ever concern them. So, any type of media regulation is an empty story when the practice is completely different”. Other journalists also have doubts about the empowerment of journalists through self-regulatory mechanism in commercial privately owned media. A journalist working in a commercial television with national reach claims: “[Statutes] should exist in every news-desk, the relations would be much clearer and a lot of problems would be resolved...I think it would enhance quality journalism. But I know that in our organization, concretely, every attempt to establish something like this would be smothered. Same goes for union organizing”. A journalist from a public service broadcaster blames the state: “For years now there are no statutes in the media! OK, now they are there, but only in the last few months (…) it has been on hold for eight or nine years. All this proves to what extent the Ministry of Culture care about the media scene”.
Professional Ethics
There are two self-regulatory bodies in charge of professional standards and ethics. The first is the Journalist Honour Council (JHC), established by the Croatian Journalist Association, which has elaborated the Code of Ethics.  The Council deals with breaches of the professional code. Its strongest measure is a moral condemnation for violation of the code. In January-October 2012, the JHC received 80 complaints. Half of them (41) were dismissed as ungrounded. A majority of 39 relevant complaints concerned biased and inaccurate reporting, defamation and sensationalism. Other cases concerned the breach of children’s rights, privacy rights and copyright. The 2012 Annual report of the Journalist Honour Council identified two negative trends in the report: covert advertising and a continuation of breach of the provision regarding right-to-reply. More than half of them were aimed at editors, which the JHC claimed to be the actors most responsible for the adverse state of journalism ethics in the Croatian media. Thus, while the CJA is publicly visible and has an important role in raising awareness of the trends and problems in the profession, it has not quite succeeded to homogenize the journalists and create solidarity among them or to develop professional standards. Its impact in cases of breach is weak and ends with notices. As a journalist from a commercial news portal claims: “[The statute] it is a dead letter. The highest level you can reach [in cases of breach] is a notice issued by the Croatian Journalist Association”. 
There has been a relatively recent attempt to establish another council that would include different stakeholders. The Croatian Media Council (CMC) was established in the end of 2011. It is a self-regulatory body aimed at the enhancement of media performance in Croatia. It monitors and sanctions the breach of journalist ethics. It consists of eight representatives of the CJA and eight representatives of large media organizations1. Thus, the idea is to bring both representatives of employers and employees to the table. However, while any form of defending journalist professional standards is welcome, it is unclear how they will differ from the CJA’s Council of Honour since the cases of breach only applies to the members of the CMC, who must publish a notice in their respective media in such cases. For now, its performance still seems to be weak and the question is whether it will survive at all. 
The Janus Face of Self-Regulation
Self-regulation within media organizations is underdeveloped in Croatia for several reasons: firstly, the stipulations in the media acts are not implemented and there is no repercussion for not obeying the law, which perpetuates the persistence of irresponsible everyday practices. Secondly, the position of journalists in the labour market is precarious, the number of unemployed journalists is rising, and unstable working conditions create existential fear - a context in which demanding their rights and pursuing their goals that might go against media proprietors is unlikely to evolve. In this context, hierarchical structures are not being questioned and a vertical unidirectional mode of communication is dominating. Professional solidarity is quite low, and there is a division between journalists: those working in public service media are considered to be under political influence, employed mainly via political connections and holding a secure position which produces laziness; the ones working in commercial media are perceived as oriented to profit only, producing lower quality content and ignoring professional standards and ethics. A division between the commercial sector and the public sector is visible in other domains as well, preventing the vast majority of underprivileged employees to nurture solidarity and to connect horizontally regardless of the sector within which they operate. This division serves the economic elite because it prevents employees from demanding better working conditions, and it serves the political elites because it eases budget cuts and further cripples the public sector’s capacities. 
In a broad sense, self-regulation could be interpreted in a twofold way: if self-regulation means allocating power to workers i.e. the journalists and creative staff within a media organization, so that they can enhance the operation of the media by developing professional standards, it is surely a worthy goal. However, if it is only a signifier commonly used in the discourse of a liberal market economy to justify deregulation, by pushing forward a supposed ‘empowerment from below’ by which ‘independence’ from state interference is neatly substituted by commercial interests that guide the operation of media - it needs critical assessment. Firstly, because it ignores the structural constraints that journalists are facing in their everyday work and secondly, because it tends to ignore the fact that in democratic systems the state is ‘owned’ by the public, and should work accordingly in the public interest. The public just needs to demand it. 
1 Croatian Journalist Association, Association of Press Publishers, Croatian Association of Radio and Press, National Association of Television, the Croatian Radiotelevision, NovaTV, RTL TV, Association for Interactive Marketing.
Media Policy and Reforms