ZDENKO DUKA AT DEPARTURE: Dnevno.hr and "para-veteran" portals are spreading hate speech

ZDENKO DUKA AT DEPARTURE: Dnevno.hr and "para-veteran" portals are spreading hate speech
The quality of journalistic content has declined and in addition to that we have the problem of hate speech, which is appearing more and more.

An interview with the former president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, Zdenko Duka, who is leaving the position of head of the Association after nearly eight years. 

"The quality of journalistic content has declined and in addition to that we have the problem of hate speech, which is appearing more and more. To put it simply, there are some media outlets that cannot even be called media; there are dangerous torrents of hate and virtually no one is reporting them," says in an interview with Lupiga the former president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, Zdenko Duka, who is leaving the position of head of the Association after nearly eight years. It will become known tomorrow after the Election Assembly who will succeed him. Therefore, we used the opportunity to do a "sign-off" interview with Duka, in which he warns that the real owners of some Croatian media outlets are still unknown and observes that a case – in which a lawyer representing an indicted highly positioned politician is also the owner of an influential media outlet – is a self-evident conflict of interest.

How do you assess your two mandates as head of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND)?

It hasn’t been exactly two full mandates. The second mandate was cut by approximately eight months because the date when the assembly is held was changed. Overall, in these seven years and four months, my general assessment is that HND achieved a higher reputation among the public than among journalists, particularly those who are not members of HND. A truly objective problem is that there was an economic crisis throughout this period. It certainly reflected on media from 2008 onwards, print media most of all. We may say that all of us journalists lived better before than we do today. That is also an objective reason why dissatisfaction has grown among journalists over the last six years.

Do you have specific information on how many journalists lost their jobs in these six years?

There are no precise data. The Ministry of Culture, while producing the media strategy, worked with estimates showing up to 35 percent jobs shut down in media. They reached this percentage based on statistics. The latest census of the population showed that we have around 4,900 journalists in Croatia, approximately 1,000 of whom are not working. It is assumed that most of them are graduated journalists who still have not found employment or have lost their jobs. In any case, it is true that media are in a grave situation, although they have never been more read, watched or listened to than today. This is a result of new technologies, new media. But the problem is how to be paid for these viewer, reader and listener ratings. This is difficult even in the most developed countries, let alone in our country. Journalists’ work has been underpaid in the last several years and an efficient solution needs to be found for this. A model should be found, perhaps ten different models, so the profession can survive.

"Journalism no longer has an independent position" (PHOTO: Lupiga.com)

Has the crisis reflected on HND membership?

It has reflected, unfortunately. Nevertheless, this has happened to a lesser extent than newspaper circulations and revenue have declined; according to some data, press revenue was cut by half over a period of several years. Our membership during my two mandates declined by some 20 percent. There were 3,300 members when I arrived and now there are around 2,600.

Don’t you think the crisis reflects most of all on media content?

Yes, there is more and more journalism that is close to PR. Journalism no longer has an independent position. There is no honest, genuine journalism, without outside influence, at least not to the extent we would like. If we look at journalism in general, the key issue is mainstream media. We have a lot of non-profit media, such as Lupiga and others. They are growing, they are becoming better and their quality is rising; their work should be supported because it is very valuable, but mainstream media carry journalism. We have to look at four or five leading newspapers in the country and see if the quality there is better than in previous years. I am convinced it is not. Compared to previous years, the quality of journalistic content has declined. A second problem is hate speech, which is appearing more and more, and which has become pronounced in these years of economic and even social crisis. To put it simply, there are some media that can’t even be called media. I am primarily talking about internet portals, which you don’t know what to do with since you can’t even sue them.

Can you specifically name these portals?

I can. The first one is dnevno.hr, which many people have a problem with. They accuse without any facts or arguments. They often slander and defame and that is not calming down. Many articles published there can’t be called journalism, because they are often simply fabrications, pamphlets or calls for lynch. But there are others as well, I would say para-veterans’ portals, which someone is launching, and there are dangerous torrents of hate speech there as well. Virtually no one is reporting them for violating the rules of the journalistic profession and not abiding by the Code of Honor, because they don’t even consider them media.

"Many articles published there can’t be called journalism, because they are often simply fabrications, pamphlets or calls for lynch" (PHOTO: Lupiga.com)

What can HND actually do about it?

HND has reacted several times. It seems to me that the Council for Electronic Media can do a lot more about it. I would like to say again on this opportunity – some people are even in favor of banning media such as dnevno.hr, but I am not. However, it should be possible to punish hate speech, defamation and slander. No one is actually doing anything about such media because, as I have said, they don’t even consider them to be media, but that can’t be an excuse. There are examples of hate speech there which could be dealt with under the Penal Code, but that should really be the last resort. Compared to the media landscapes of other country, I wouldn’t say Croatian journalism is stagnating more than elsewhere. This is a general trend, not exactly in the whole of Europe, but unfortunately in this part it is. The quality of content is irrevocably declining; a problem that is, among other reasons, caused by the small market. We can’t compare ourselves with big countries, which can bear the crisis much more easily, such as Germany or France. But we see that Croatia, according to media freedom assessments, scored a little better than Italy in the latest Reporters without Borders report. If we speak about the region or countries of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia along with Slovenia has the best standing. However, all together it is not really praiseworthy.

Is media ownership more transparent than in the past or are there still a lot of unknowns in this regard?

There is a legal obligation for media owners to be declared, but in some cases you can’t reach the real owners without a lot of research. There are a whole lot of unknowns. It’s hard to find the names of real owners; there are many tacit and secret agreements. That’s a problem that would have to be solved by the new law on media. We had expected the Ministry of Culture to present the media strategy on time, based on which amendments to media laws would be proposed, but we see now there won’t be time for that. Discussions on media policy have started – eight of them are planned – and they will all end sometime in early summer, a short while before the summer break in Croatian Parliament. Then everything should become open for the standard public discussion, so I don’t think there will be legislative changes during this government’s mandate.

We are witnesses that mainstream media massively shut down bureaus in small towns during your mandate. It seems that media are covering an increasingly small part of Croatia and have actually reduced Croatia to Zagreb.

In the age of the Internet and a time of poverty, it seems that no one needs foreign correspondents now, but the Internet can’t be an excuse for abolishing local bureaus because it does not cover in a news sense what is happening in the provinces. Journalism has, unfortunately, become more of a sedentary job, with a computer. Many reporters have also fallen victim to the multitasking trend, where one man shoots, reports and finally edits, if we are talking about television and radio. One of journalism’s main problems is that there are fewer and fewer local correspondents and they feel increasingly vulnerable because their journalism job has always been much more sensitive due to local strongmen, who are often more dangerous than strongmen in Zagreb.

"In some cases you can’t reach the real owners without a lot of research" (PHOTO: Lupiga.com)

During your mandate the offense of vilification was introduced.

Parliament luckily amended the provision on vilification, but we have been saying the whole time that this is not enough, for we had demanded that vilification be thrown out of the Penal Code. Back in 2013 the new Penal Code had entered into force, passed by the HDZ government, but this left-liberal government has done nothing to change that. We had agitated the whole time while HDZ was preparing these amendments for total decriminalization of acts against reputation and honor, so that we only have civil proceedings for indemnification of damage, as is the practice in the whole Southeast European region. But the regressive step was taken here; even reinstatement of prison for defamation had been proposed. Luckily, we were able to eliminate it right away and prison sentences did not enter the Penal Code.

It appears we have a trend in the judiciary today according to which journalists are guilty in advance of everything they are accused of.

Yes, there are numerous indicators of this trend. Few can be satisfied with our judiciary and journalists can’t be satisfied with it either. Judges increasingly adjudicate against journalists for things that had once always been adjudicated in favor of journalists. In the last several years we have also had an assault on journalists in labor disputes. They are losing labor disputes more often than before, especially in cases of "RPO (RPO – regular taxpayer) jobs" which actually constitute concealed employment. If a journalist spends the whole day in the newsroom, uses the newsroom’s resources, has all obligations as his or her fully employed colleagues, then it’s just a common case of concealed employment. There are forms of freelancing everywhere in the world, but if the job is tied to just one owner and specifically determined work hours, then it’s not "RPO"; it must be full employment. Judges are very inconsistent in this regard.

We have a recent case of a lawyer representing a highly positioned politician indicted for abuse of office and power who became the owner of one of the more influential dailies. Should such things be prevented?

That’s conflict of interest, rather self-evident. This area is not legally regulated. It cannot be prescribed in these frameworks of European legislation that a publisher’s primarily activity must be only media; it’s not defined like that anywhere. This is conflict of interest in action and what should and can be done is for the newsroom to make utmost effort to be completely independent, completely independent of the owner. But it’s hard to achieve that today in our country.

"It’s a problem to write and publish stories about the biggest advertisers and Todorić is the biggest and most powerful one" (PHOTO: Lupiga.com)

When the Workers’ Front recently staged a protest in front of Kulmer’s Castle, where the biggest advertiser in the country Ivica Todorić lives, Novi list was the only commercial media outlet which provided quality reporting on the protest. Jutarnji only had a small piece of information, HRT reported briefly on the fourth channel, while Nova TV had nothing.

Yes, the event should have been given more importance. It’s a problem to write and publish stories about the biggest advertisers and Todorić is the biggest and most powerful one.

What about money journalists and media lost in court because of defamation, which judicial bodies later refuted? For example, Tomislav Merčep took money from journalists who wrote about war crimes and today he is indicted for those crimes.

I don’t know if there is any legal redress for that, but there probably is through repeated lawsuits. I know Viktor Ivančić wrote about that. I believe they can try to get it. No one, however, thinks it’s easy and acceptable to deal with it. Of course, if something that had previously been declared defamation is proven to be true, then the one who paid damages should get that money back.

Last year HND did not give an award for investigative journalism; is this year different?

This year the award will be given. Last year the jury, which is totally independent in its work, decided the received works did not meet the criteria.

On the other hand you have the shutting down of the investigative journalism course at the Faculty of Political Science. Are there any niches in which there is room for this kind of journalism?

Those are mostly niches of non-profit portals. In my opinion, it’s bad that there is less and less real investigative reporting. That has nothing to do with the HND award. Last year it was obvious there were too few works because investigative reporting is not stimulated. It’s costly and, on the other hand, it’s dangerous for the person doing it. In addition, considerable efforts are made to censor it.

Candidates for your successor are Anton Filić, Nikola Kristić, Saša Leković, Gojko Marinković, Ana Raić Knežević and Nataša Škaričić. Do you have a favorite?

I’m in the Novi list newsroom and our newsroom has proposed Ana Raić Knežević. I wouldn’t want to explain further; it wouldn’t be fair.

An evaluation of your mandate from 1 to 10?

Let others evaluate that.

Article is originally published on Lupiga.com.

Media Integrity
Media Ownership and Finances