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Croatia: Review Govt Appointments to News Agency

IFJ Calls for Review of Government Appointments to Croatian News Agency Managing Board

The International Federation of Journalists today joined calls for a new and transparent appointments procedure for Croatian public media after the government named a veterinarian, a recent law school graduate and a political public relations executive to the committee that is responsible for maintaining the HINA news agency's independence and impartial public role.

Protests are being led by the Croatian Journalists Association (CJA) and Trade Union of Croatian Journalists (TUCJ), who accuse the government of selecting unsuitable candidates and fear that the new board is made up of political appointees who will be instructed to select government-friendly editors.

"The Croatian government has a responsibility to ensure that the best people available are appointed to manage the public news agency," said Oliver Money-Kyrle, Director of IFJ Programmes. "There is real concern that the government has ignored quality and competence in favour of appointing those they can command and control."

According to Croatian law, four members of the five-member board should be experts in one of the following fields: economics, law, media or information. A fifth member represents HINA employees.

To fill the open positions on the board, the government has named Dijana Katica, a veterinarian by profession, as the economics expert. It named Drazen Jovic, a recent law school graduate, as the legal expert. The government-appointed media expert, Bozo Skoko, runs a public relations agency specialising in political marketing, which presents a clear conflict of interest. Ivan Rusan, the information expert, was the only member of the previous board to be re-appointed.

Vladimir Lulic should have been appointed as the representative of the HINA staff. His appointment, however, was not endorsed by the government, which claimed his nomination by the staff had breached procedural regulations.

"HINA must be protected from political control," said Dragutin Luce, President of the CJA. "The only way to do that is to re-launch the process and introduce much greater transparency over the procedures and the criteria for selection."

The CJA and the TUCJ fear that the government will again select government-friendly appointees when it names the new governing council for the Public Broadcaster, Hrvatske Radiotelevizija (HRT), later this year.

"The council should be an independent body composed of representatives of all the parts of a democratic society," said Katja Kusec, the new TUCJ President and an HRT journalist. "It must be able to protect journalists from the constant political pressure."

Last December, HRT came under furious attack during the parliamentary debate on the broadcasters' annual report. The attack provoked widespread criticism from journalists and the public alike, who saw it as an attempt to impose a government agenda on HRT.

In October 2005, Tihomir Ladisic was removed from his post as presenter of the "Otvoreno" show for conducting a debate on the role of the Croatian army during the Bosnian conflict. The show had come under sustained public criticism by the governing HDZ politicians.

HRT is one of Europe's most successful public broadcasters, having managed the transition to independence following the break up of Yugoslavia. It currently enjoys over 70 percent of the national viewing figures, higher than any other European broadcaster.

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