Who is pressuring journalists and how: From politicians to advertisers

23. December 2021.
Who is pressuring journalists and how: From politicians to advertisers 1
Kurs for Gong

The research paper 'Who is pressuring journalists and how: From politicians to advertisers', prepared and conducted by award-winning journalist and editor Djurdjica Klancir for Gong, concluded that the untouchable individuals and untouchable media topics in Croatia are big companies, advertisers, politicians and members of the government. Ms Klancir has ample experience in media outlets of various publishers in addition to being a member of the Council of Honour of the Croatian Journalists' Association. 

Although the ruling party often claims that there is no censorship in the Croatian media, more than two thirds of the interviewed journalists answered affirmatively to the question of whether they have been under pressure in the last two years due to their journalistic work. Equally, two thirds of respondents confirmed that in the last two years they have witnessed pressure on newsrooms where they work by powerful people, media owners, but also from the media marketing department where they work. 

"There is no democracy without free media, which is a strong guarantee against the abuse of power. Because of the importance of free journalism, without which there is no democracy, Gong as a European democracy watchdog conducted a preliminary study. Specific mechanisms of pressure on journalists in Croatia have not been analyzed thus far, so Gong decided to investigate how models of censorship and self-censorship affect our media environment and shape newsrooms. We initially contacted 30 experienced journalists, editors from various media at the national level: from public television, the most influential private television companies, from the print media and from Internet portals. Of the 30 people we approached to participate in the research, 23 responded to our call", explained Oriana Ivkovic Novokmet, Gong's CEO.

Almost half of the respondents confirmed that they have been banned from researching and writing about certain topics in the last two years, mostly because of advertisers, but also during the election campaign. Among the 'untouchables', along with the big advertisers, are often members of the ruling party, ministers, the prime minister, but also opposition politicians. Journalists’ stories are most often stopped because of advertisers, but only a small number of respondents had experience with attempts to influence their work during the preparation and research period. Most often, such suggestions come from the editorial board or media owners, but some politicians, as well as PR people, give themselves the right to suggest the direction of the story, says one of the answers. For example, one of the journalists stated that they were not allowed to "write about certain retail chains, since they are big advertisers", they were, however, asked to write an article about companies related to (now deceased) Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, but the text was never published, although they said it was good and would be published". 

"We were banned from monitoring the spread of COVID-19 infection in one city in the spring of 2020, from where the epidemic spread throughout the county," said one respondent, while another experienced a "ban on inviting some guests". One journalist mentions a personal case when he was banned from working on a story involving a well-known Croatian company because their PR service did not like his articles. "Increasingly, journalists are asked to write articles commissioned by editors and with pre-determined topics, the theses of which are often inaccurate. We are also required to write PR and native texts, both economic and political, often in disguised form. Refusing to write the article in the required way can mean (often means) dismissal, and it almost certainly means degradation, "one journalist testified. One respondent stated that he "witnessed censorship, pressure, selective reporting, intimidation and falling of all professional standards" within the news program of a national television.

The results of this pilot research show that there truly is censorship in the Croatian media, and that there are more and more mechanisms within editorial censorship, so we can conclude that this issue should be further investigated, but also insist on eliminating all forms of censorship and pressure on journalists and media. 

It is necessary for democracy that journalists retain their functions as guardians of democracy, researchers of social dangers, critics of the powerful and influential. The current situation in society is extremely dangerous when journalists are deprived of the opportunity to do their job - researching, analyzing and exposing injustices. 

Gong is a beneficiary of operational support - structural support to European think-do-tanks in its entirety "Democratic and Civic Participation" under the Europe for Citizens program.

Gong is a Knowledge Center in the field of civic activism and building democratic institutions of society within the Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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