Emergency measures to save journalism in Croatia

Trade Union of Croatian Journalists and Croatian Journalist’s Association are again warning and proposing measures to help save journalism.

Media erosion also means erosion of democracy; the media sector in Croatia is in existential jeopardy!

Respectable Prime Minister of Croatia Mr. Andrej Plenković,

Respectable Minister of Culture Ms. Nina Obuljen Koržinek,

Unfortunately, our recent and repeatedly expressed prediction and concern that we will find ourselves in a situation where we will be seeing firings of journalists and other media workers due to the circumstances arising after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic turned out to be true.

Journalism, which has not yet recovered from the negative effects of the recent global crisis, has been hit with a new one. Job losses and pay cuts have already begun. They could eventually lead to a decline in professional media coverage, and in a year’s time Croatia could have a media problem that will be recognized at EU level, such as media systems across the Balkans today. Unfortunately, even the third “package” of Government measures did not remember to cover journalists and the media as a whole; journalism is completely ignored.

The state has responded well to the health crisis so far, and we journalists have a big and important role to play. The members of the Civil Protection Staff of the Republic of Croatia thank us every day for a job well done. This job has its own laws and material prerequisites necessary for quality reporting. Imagine what a crisis it would be if the media sector was not functioning, that there was an empire of unverified information where the owners were scratching their headlines for every click, for every kuna.

Imagine a media environment where media is just a business, not a call for the benefit of the public interest. The functioning of vital public services – from healthcare through supply to the financial system – and the personal sphere of citizens’ lives depends directly on timely and verified information, while spreading misinformation can make all crisis scenarios much more difficult. Journalism is, in the months and years to come, more necessary than ever. And the quality of the media depends on the concern for the media sector. It is located in the office of Minister Obuljen Koržinek and cannot be escaped. The responsibility for what journalism will look like in a year or two now rests with you as much as it does on us. The devastated media sector generally leads to a devastated society, and there are many examples to confirm that.

Let us exemplify the situation we are talking about. In the last two weeks only, according to our information, the following has happened:

* As many as 28.7% of freelance journalists, freelancers and part-time associates were left without any engagements in the Croatian media, 26.2% of them lost most their previous engagementa, and in 15.9% of them their engagement halved; only 15% retained their engagement (HND and SNH poll conducted on April 6-8, 2020 among membership – journalists working in the Croatian media as external associates)

*  The cooperation of most permanent part-time associates of Croatian Radio and Television has been canceled

* Cooperation with most of the full-time associates of HANZA media has been canceled
* Salaries in the Voice of Istria have been cut by 50%
* Reduction of salaries in Novi list
* Reduction of benefits agreed thru collective barganing on Croatian Radiotelevision (decisions made without social dialogue)
* The income in the HANZA group was reduced
* Nonprofit media publishers expect a loss of funding in the next year, with as many as 54% estimating that this loss will be greater than 50% (according to a survey conducted by the HND from April 6-8, 2020 among nonprofit media publishers).

So far, the measures taken by the Government to support the economy have mainly covered entrepreneurs and commercial media publishers. In order to avoid the redundancies of journalists and all other media workers due to the coronavirus crisis, the Government’s measures to safeguard solvency and employment should be urgently extended and applied to all media.

What about non-profit media, and what about media who’s founders are state, counties, and local municipalities? They are not covered by Government measures. And what about journalists? Permanent employees, as we can see, are left without much of their pay, and we are particularly concerned about the fate of permanent part-time associates, freelance journalists, freelancers. There are hundreds of them working in the public, commercial and non-profit media. They do not fall into the category of self-employed and therefore cannot apply for measures, and their employers have mostly canceled cooperation with them; According to a poll conducted by the Croatian Journalists ‘Association and the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists, only 15% of them retained their engagements.

The non-profit media sector was devastated in 2016. by the disastrous decisions of the then administration at the Ministry of Culture. The new crisis will completely destroy him and it is of up most urgency to open up public funding. Local media, especially small ones (with fewer than 10 employees), are often owned by local municipalities, and consequently do not have access to Government measures. One source of support in this case cannot and should not be an obstacle to another. It is a large number of journalistic jobs, human lives in stake. We believe that the measures intended for them should be adapted to suit the market share they receive. In addition, after the devastating earthquake in Zagreb that destroyed Hina’s building, Hina employees, who’s founder is the state, are working in harsh conditions, from home, on their personal computers, and intensifying efforts to maintain the agency’s work and secure production of news and other content intended for users and fulfilling the role of public service. The Government of the Republic of Croatia is obliged to provide Hina with access to the measures just as it is obliged to secure working conditions as soon as possible and to renew and modernize the Agency’s headquarters so that the workplaces are adequate and completely secure.

We urge you to recognize that these are not normal times and that, if nothing is done, a wave of layoffs and a media shutdown will follow.

We recall that, according to the National Media Report (Ministry of Culture 2015), the global economic crisis of 2008. affected the long-term crisis in the media in Croatia, which called into question the exercise of the Constitution’s guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and the democratic function of the media. From 2008. to 2012., media employment was down 25 percent – from 12,500 to 9300 workers.

Journalists and the media must have specific measures adopted by the Government. Consequently, a media recovery plan should include the following:

Short term

1. Any form of incentive, assistance and financial relief for media companies should be firmly and exclusively linked to a clear, written, contractually defined obligation on the media company to guarantee – and subsequently prove – that there will be no dismissal or cancellation during the crisis and at least one year after using state aid of journalists and freelance journalists. Also, financial relief for media owners should be firmly linked to the obligation not to lay off full-time employees or reduce their salaries and other allowances. Funds received from the state must be spent for purpose. The crisis should not be a cover for media publishers for the layoffs and the collapse of the price of work in the already low paid and devastated journalistic profession. This is especially important because, in practice, media owners and publishers have not yet complied with the legal provision on the establishment of editorial boards as a condition on which they received preferential VAT from the state (simply, there are no prescribed sanctions) or on the views of editorial boards at all. They are not paying attention, for which the best example is Novi list, where the management repeatedly and without punishment violates the Media Statute.

2. Increasing public funding of the media through the Journalism Crisis Fund. This fund intended to finance journalistic work would have HRK 30 million available, which could ensure the quality work of around 300 journalists from non-profit and local media by the end of 2020., and experience would show whether this number should be corrected for the next one. The funds should be made available immediately to independent and local media and to all freelance journalists, photojournalists, cameramen and other media workers, and the procedures for allocating funds need to be accelerated and simplified. Specifically, the media could report their programs and projects with a brief description of the activities and the number of journalists hired, and the funds would be granted on the basis of salaries, ie fees for journalistic work (we suggest an amount of HRK 9,000 gross per month). Such a fund for the financing of journalistic work and additional recruitment of journalists, who will immediately engage in the vital work of credible reporting on all aspects of the current crisis, may be managed by a council composed of representatives of media workers and scientists, delegated by the Croatian Journalists ‘Association, the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists and the Ministry of Culture, with administrative support from the Ministry of Culture or the Ministry of Finance. However, due to the urgency, the award procedure could be temporarily taken over by the Electronic Media Agency (AEM), which in this case should be able to finance small, local print media, regardless of ownership structure, their profitability or non-profit. In addition to the media itself, the materials produced could also be used by Hina, or Croatian Radiotelevision.

3. Media who’s founders are the state or local and regional municipalities could use Government measures in proportion to the revenue generated by the said media from commercial income.

4. Journalists who work as part-time associates should get payed directly a fee of HRK 4,000 per month for the next three months, provided that they can prove by tax card or certificate from Regos that they have not had income from independent work (salaries) in 2020., and especially if they can prove by certificates from the same bodies that in the previous years they have generated most of their income on this basis alone. Another option is to pay compensation through the employer, but only those who can prove that they have a contract with the worker and that they haven’t terminated that contract. The payment should be linked to the OIB to avoid the possibility of double entitlement. Also, in case of illness, it should be possible to pay a compensation of at least 70% of all monthly contractual fees previously agreed upon, or 70% of the last paid fee. As of 2017, freelance journalists (as well as other professions in which such a form of work is possible) pay contributions, therefore, health insurance contributions, but are not entitled to sickness benefits, and in that case they would lose income.

5. In the third quarter of 2020., launch a new two-year tender for the allocation of funds from the Fund for the Promotion of Pluralism and Diversity of Electronic Media.

6. Return, that is put out a call for competition for non-profit media that was regulary conducted from 2013. to 2015. by the Ministry of Culture and double the amount of this fund (to HRK 6 million). The competition may be conducted by the Electronic Media Agency, but only according to the criteria of the said competition.

7. Immediately allocate funds (HRK 15 million) secured through the European Social Fund (ESF) to the Community Media Program, but immediately call for proposals for the second phase of the same program, that is, for the remaining HRK 15 million also secured through the ESF.

Long term

1. Establish a permanent public journalism fund that will award grants according to criteria such as those of the Ministry of Culture (2013. to 2015.) for funding non-profit media. The Fund should be managed by a council composed of representatives of media workers and scientists, who are delegated by the Croatian Journalist Society, the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists and the Ministry of Culture, with the administrative support of the Ministry of Culture or the Ministry of Finance.

2. Introduce tax breaks for citizens who donate or subscribe to media registered in Croatia. This is an opportunity to increase the independence of financing media from independent sources and to bring our media system closer to those in the more developed countries of the European Union (Germany, France, Slovenia, Scandinavian countries).

3. Prepare measures to support organizational forms of media cooperatives in order to reduce long-term dependence of the media sector on the state, as well as on market volatility.

In this emergency, professional journalism, honest journalism, media literacy and transparency are the best answer for misinformation. In this way, please allow us to do our work responsibly and critically, courageously and independently. Without adequate public support and long-lasting measures that will mitigate the negative effects of this crisis, we cannot. Media obstruction is also an obstruction of democracy. We must not allow this.

With respect,

Maja Sever, president of Trade Union of Croatian Journalists

Hrvoje Zovko, president of the Croatian Journalists Association

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