Eye witness

February 26, 1999

While attention is concentrated on the unfolding drama of the Kosovo peace process after Rambouillet, Croatia is preparing for parliamentary elections later this year.

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of President Franjo Tudjman, determined to remain in a majority, is immersed in a crisis facing the country's media.

International monitoring organisations have sounded frequent warnings over the pro-HDZ stance of the state broadcasting media and systematic harassment of independent newspapers critical of the regime.

Now the pressure is more subtle. Stjepan Malovic, professor of journalism at the University of Zagreb, says: "My personal feeling is that in 1999 government control of, and pressures on, the media will be even stronger."

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has identified Tizak, the state distribution company, as responsible for bringing many newspaper publishers to their knees.

The six main opposition parties have drawn attention to the "extremism" of the HDZ, demonstrated by a deteriorating situation at the state television and the national news agency, HINA. Within two days this month, the heads of both the national television station and the agency resigned.

Most of Croatia's 2,500 journalists started their careers in the communist era, Professor Malovic says. "We tried to achieve media freedom but the war stopped that. Now we are facing threats to media freedom again."

Professor Malovic, director of the new International Centre for Education of Journalists established in Opatija by the Croatian Journalists' Association, believes the key is to improve journalistic standards through professional training and career development. Short courses and workshops will give journalists from the transition economies professional training in ethics, investigative reporting, and other skills.

The task of covering the elections is one of the key tests for Croatia's journalists and Professor Malovic, who intends to organise a workshop on political journalism, is conscious of the need to work both with the state and the independent media.

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