Prevent media capture by the concealed owners

In the run-up to the debate on Final draft of the electronic media Act, Gong wants to draw attention to the inadequate reaction of the Croatian institutions, as well as the absence of the adequate control of the media ownership to prevent their capture by the concealed owners and their individual interests. That is why today we wrote to the members of the Croatian Parliament.

The case of awarding the 101 MHz concession to Top Radio showed all the shortcomings in the work of the Agency for Electronic Media, i.e., the Council as the body that manages the Agency. Following the publication of suspicions of concealed ownership in a press release, the Council claims that they conducted an additional check and based on the official excerpts from state registers and notarised statements of bidders, given under material and criminal liability, and found that there is nothing disputable in the decision to grant a concession for the City of Zagreb and Zagreb County to the Top Radio. The fact that the owner Ivan Jurić-Kaćunić is also named as the owner of the protected brands of several radio-stations – Antena Zagreb, Narodni radio, Extra FM, Gold FM, Enter Zagreb, Radio Dalmacija and Ultra FUM – in the registry of the State Intellectual Property Office did not prevent them from awarding him the concession once again, says specialised portal Media Daily.

The Ministry of Culture and Media justifies its inaction on this issue by the independence of the regulatory body – the Council for Electronic Media – and calls on the institutions to check the suspicions that have arisen in public. So far, there is no confirmation that the State Attorney’s Office or the Croatian Competition Agency are investigating this case, even though the Croatian Journalists’ Association and the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists called on them to investigate it. Gong reported the case to the European Commission and Vice President Vera Jurova, whom we called on to ensure equal democratic standards in all member states.

The new Act does not strengthen the verification of beneficial ownership, nor does it introduce more transparent election of members of the Electronic Media Council. We think that the members of the Council, as a body that governs the Agency, should be elected in a more transparent manner. Precisely, Gong advocates that the candidates for the membership in the Council introduce themselves publicly at a session of the parent parliamentary working body, as is the case with candidates for the commissioner, ombudsman, or president of the Supreme Court of Croatia. That would elevate the level of their responsibility to the public, whose interests they should protect.

Media freedom and pluralism are the pillars of modern democracy. We think there is no democracy without free media and that the transparent ownership is the key sign of pluralism, which is important in preventing the concentration of power. Beneficial ownership is also important in the context of preventing money laundering.

Gong is a beneficiary of operational support – structural support to European think-do-tanks in the unit “Democratic and Civic Participation”, under the Europe for Citizens program.

Gong is the Center of Knowledge in the field of civil activism and building of democratic institutions in the society, within the framework of the Development cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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